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THE DYLANISTA – Spring/Summer 2023

I would like to use my column in this issue as a call to action. Warning bells are sounding in Dylan studies, but the field has been late to respond.

Beginnings seem to be multiplying around us. There is the establishment of the Bob Dylan Archive, a kind of engineered fons et origo allowing researchers to approach Dylan studies with utterly new material and with fresh eyes. Similarly, the Bob Dylan Institute at the University of Tulsa, just founded in 2018 as if waiting to be born, has already hosted two significant World of Bob Dylan conferences. Five years ago, Lisa O’Neill Sanders founded this journal, still the only peer-reviewed publication in Dylan studies. Add to these developments the recent flurry of conferences in Europe during the last decade and the explosion of print publications on Dylan since his Nobel Prize in 2016, and you get a distinct sense of pastures new, as if the field of Dylan studies were starting from scratch.

Of course, this is only an illusion, or a half-illusion. The field of Dylan studies is not new, despite the sudden unprecedented opportunities and outlets for research. While the formal institutionalization of Dylan studies might be new, the field itself is sixty years old. Biographers, scholars, reviewers, and all manner of critics have written about Dylan, often providing deeply informative texts regardless of the format of the publication, with or without the use of a consistent scholarly apparatus.

Yet there’s a conflict between the long history of Dylan studies and the new newness. In fact, a crisis has been born, and borne upon us, in the wake of the exciting coherence in our field. And the crisis is best expressed as a paradox: the newly forged wave of research developments in Dylan studies is largely the work of an aging generation of (mostly male, white) scholars, critics, and enthusiasts. Yet, despite the efforts of professors and other Dylan disseminators to the young, the continuation of Dylan studies remains uncertain. Can we say with any confidence that, as the current aging generation disappears, seven new people will be born? Or seventy? Or seven hundred?

The great pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige, who played his last Major League Baseball game at 59, supposedly asked the question, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” This isn’t a new idea, but Paige’s formulation is catchy. A more common way to express the same idea is “You’re only as old as you feel.” Either way, the bulk of the Dylan community seems to have embraced this sentiment. Most Dylan scholars, enthusiasts, Dylanologists, and even concert audiences are older. Yet, admirably, they don’t let being an aging – and even aged – group of followers slow down their interest and engagement with Dylan. After all, Dylan himself is in his eighties.

But a problem has emerged that is inseparable from the resilience of Dylan’s aging audience. After the recent World of Bob Dylan conference in Tulsa, several people I trust made a point of sounding the alarm about the advancing age of their fellow participants, in effect highlighting a crisis at the center of Bob Dylan studies. According to unscientific estimates, 60 to 70 per cent of the conference participants were males over the age of fifty. This is a perilously lopsided number.

Certainly, there are promising indications of a young generation of Dylan aficionados out there. For example – to start close to home – three of the co-editors of this journal are in their twenties or thirties. Similarly, the Italian branch of Dylan studies boasts recent doctoral graduates who are fast becoming indispensable to the field, having organized a conference on Dylan and the fine arts and produced a volume of essays. The archive librarians at both the Bob Dylan Center and the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa are young scholars who see a future in the field – and, concomitantly, are the future of the field. The TU Bob Dylan Institute, founded and run by Sean Latham, not only hosts the WoBD conferences, but also operates within a university, presumably recruiting and involving undergraduates. My younger colleagues assure me that social media channels bristle with exchanges on our articles with every release of an issue of the Dylan Review. Similarly, Dylan’s tour has generated conversations across an international group of followers. These engagements need not be confined to publication events or concert tours but could be expanded into ongoing projects in more permanent modes, forming a foundation of interest in Dylan studies among younger audiences.

We must help to foster this – those of us who have been cathected onto Dylan since we were young. But how exactly? How can we preserve – let alone expand – engagement with Dylan studies in future generations if our ranks are so homogeneous in age and gender? How can we pass on skills, methods, and energy to a young generation of scholars and critics? I don’t have a pat answer to these crucial questions. But I know that if the times are not a-changin,’ or at least not fast enough, we’d better try to change them. We can do what mentors have done since, well, since Mentor. We can tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it – and, with persistence and luck, instill in those who didn’t live through the epochs of Dylan’s creativity our profound connection to his language and music.

In The Death of Tragedy, George Steiner suggests that John Dryden’s “situation” as a dramatist in the late seventeenth century was “artificial” because “he was required to restore that national tradition of drama which had been broken by the Cromwellian interlude.” The Puritans had closed the London theaters in 1642, and the Interregnum – what Steiner calls the “Cromwellian interlude” – had lasted from 1649 to 1660. So, for approximately twenty years there was a forced hiatus on the stage, cutting off a generation of playwrights and making the revival of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama a near impossibility for Dryden and his contemporaries. This is a complex argument, involving French and neo-classical influences on Dryden, and I won’t go into the nuances here – nor do I think Dryden’s “situation” is a perfect fit for the crisis in Dylan studies. I mention it only to underscore the destructive effect of a generational gap. Dryden was hopelessly hobbled by the lack of continuity from Shakespeare, whom he revered. Steiner calls Dryden “the first of the critic-playwrights,” a term he uses to damn with faint praise. Being a “critic-playwright” indicates the burden of distance from Elizabethan and Jacobean theater, which Steiner characterizes as “innocent of theoretical debate.” This contrast with Restoration dramatists is probably an oversimplification, or an over-polarization of the two theatrical periods. But Steiner’s schematic is valuable for Dylan studies if, for the sake of argument, we accept that the Cromwellian interlude created an unbridgeable gap for English dramatists.

My question then is: Are we heading for the same kind of unbridgeable gap? Will the establishment of Dylan institutions like the Archive, the Bob Dylan Center, and the TU Institute for Bob Dylan Studies mark the last hurrah – a kind of eloquent peroration – of a generation born in Dylan’s heyday?

Or will the outgoing generation manage to seed far-reaching and newly inclusive pastures of plenty with burgeoning Dylan scholars, critics, and serious enthusiasts?

Someone once said that every generation must read Virgil’s Aeneid for itself. The same might be said for every inescapable author from Dante to Shakespeare to Milton, or from Cervantes to Austen to Woolf. This is partly a matter of canonization, partly of fashion, partly of accessibility. Any English speaker can read, inter alia, Charles Dickens or Edna St. Vincent Millay, regardless of whether these authors are the flavor of the month. But few people can (or would) chance Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales without an expert’s help. Because of these obstacles, or despite them, literary fortunes rise and fall, and new interpretations surface to hail or condemn or revise. This is the key to generational renewal in the Republic of Letters.

We should ask ourselves – Turn, turn, turn – and ask of ourselves: Can we embed Dylan in a poetic firmament that continually renews and redefines itself? Can we ensure that every generation will need to hear and interpret Dylan’s songs for itself? Turn to face the rain and the wind.

This is not to dismiss the many stalwart university professors who, over the last decades, pioneered Dylan courses in the curriculum, sometimes over the loud sneers of more conventionally minded faculty. With a few exceptions – Classics, for instance – these courses are usually found in English literature departments, which makes sense, given that Dylan writes in English and won the Nobel Prize in Literature. But relegation to literature departments is a kind of misrepresentation: Dylan is a musician, and we understand his songs best only after experiencing them as performances. Which brings us to the signal differences between poetry and popular music. As much as fashions in poetry have changed, poetic value as a desideratum has remained relatively constant in scholarship and, to a less widespread extent, in society. The same can’t be said for popular music. Even if there were consensus about its value as an art form, musical styles, technology, and its means of preservation make it impossible to compare it to poetry over a long period. While Robert Herrick’s iambic tetrameter poems are obsolete in contemporary practice, they appear in anthologies and are perfectly readable four hundred years later. They’re out of fashion but not out of reach.

The same condition doesn’t apply to popular music. Fashion is the draconian law that applies to all recorded popular music – or at least has done so for the last century. It might be that the internet and YouTube will change this social structure and wrest music from the imperatives of the market. But no one really knows. In the meantime, Dylan studies remains in flux between vibrant research and obsolescence. Only a new generation of Dylan students can prevent the latter and infuse the former with energy.

Much depends on current mentors. But even when, with the most perspicacious pedagogical ambitions, professors inject Dylan’s songs into their curriculum, they encounter a range of obstacles, such as their students’ lack of training in explicating poetry or – precisely because they are literature majors – their understandable inexperience with music. Professors thus find themselves, even though they are usually not trained to do so, teaching the fundamentals of twelve-bar blues and basic rock forms, even as they struggle to shed light on verses laden with classical allusions (“Temporarily Like Achilles”) and topical references (“Positively 4th Street”). Then there is the question of historical perspective: to fathom Montague Street and revolution in the air, students must understand the sixty-year-old cultural milieu from which Dylan’s songs grew.

This is a tall order for any professor, especially in a one-semester course. Think about courses on other literary figures: students who study Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels in one class, for example, are likely to have read, in other classes, some of the shining lights from the same nineteenth-century literary milieu, such as Wollstonecraft, the Romantics, or Dickens. But teaching a rock and roll icon requires more than just a background in mid-twentieth-century literature. It requires that background plus the ability to illuminate the roots of popular music. Again, a tall order for literature professors.

Still, we beat on. But it’s difficult to say how wide a dissemination Dylan-in-school produces, or to identify the exact goal of teaching undergraduate classes on Dylan’s songs. Anthologies very rarely include Dylan’s lyrics among the twentieth- and twenty-first-century poets, which would at least give his oeuvre survey-course parity with Donne, Byron, Moore, Stevens, or Bishop. Current graduate programs are unlikely to encourage dissertations on Dylan, with the perfectly reasonable justification that, as a specialty, Bob Dylan wouldn’t be much use on the job market. But we don’t want that to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The ideal would be for the young ephebes emerging from their undergrad years’ Dylan classes to contemplate the Master not in splendid isolation but to think of him as part of a network, connected with contemporaries such Robert Lowell, Frank O’Hara, or Adrienne Rich, the way we think of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning – and the songs of Robert Burns.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening. I don’t see a busy, competitive flow of younger scholars and critics replacing the older generation. A hoped-for revolving legacy (so far) has failed to materialize in Dylan studies, despite the bursts of interest on social media. Discipleship is scarce among contemporary writers and researchers. This is troubling. It’s as if our urgent – and honorable – effort to institutionalize Bob Dylan had somehow overlooked a critical facet of institution building: the nurturing of a new and radically connected cohort.

What should we do? Obviously, just adding Dylan to the curriculum is not enough for the future. Maybe we need to speak about Dylan to our students unapologetically, not along the lines of “here’s why I am including him with other, clearly more established writers”, but as a matter of course, signaling to our students, as well as to ourselves, that this is precisely where he belongs: with the greats of contemporary literature. Let us learn to take him – and Dylan Studies – for granted, as something not dependent on the newest newness, but as something that is here to stay.


It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there. The rest is silence.

– RF



“World of Bob Dylan 2023.” June 1-4, 2023, Hyatt Regency, Tulsa, OK.

REVIEW by Harold Lepidus


The second in-person World of Bob Dylan symposium took place over four days at the beginning of June. The first one occurred in late May, 2019. There have been other meetings both physical and virtual in between, but this was similar in scope and presentation to the 2019 gathering, with a couple of significant differences.


During the 2019 symposium, there was more to it than just Dylan-related panels and a guest musician – in this case, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. This was the first real chance for fans to see and hear some examples of the deep, secret archives of the work of Bob Dylan, which were purchased on behalf of the University of Tulsa. The 500 attendees had the privilege of experiencing such never before known treasures as the three-chord outtake version of “New Pony” from 1978’s Street-Legal, unseen rehearsal footage from the New Morning sessions, and unreleased songs from the 1976 Hard Rain Rolling Thunder Revue TV special which were left on the cutting room floor. There was also a demonstration of the restoration of footage from the 1966 tour, which was made a priority by the BDC team. At the time, the Bob Dylan Center had yet to be built.


In 2019, it appeared that the Center and the University were working together as one team, but that no longer appears to be the case. Last year, there was the Grand Opening of the Center, with a star-studded pre-Grand Opening celebration for the media. This year, The World of Bob Dylan was part of a separate, multi-cultural event, known as Switchyard, which ran from May 30 to June 4. The Dylan panels only took place from June 1-4.


From Tuesday, May 30 through to the morning of Thursday, June 1, there were a dozen panels, mostly addressing various forms of marginalization, persecution, and censorship. Speakers ranged from Maus author Art Spiegelman to Dylan scholar Danny Fingerouth and others exploring the X-Men comic as a metaphor for marginalized people. While I did not arrive in Tulsa in time to attend any of these panels, one can see the connection with Dylan and his socially conscious topical songs.


To set the scene for this year’s festivities, all of the Dylan panels took place at the Tulsa Hyatt. There were a few conference rooms on the lower lobby level, and another one on the upper lobby level, where there were also merch tables for Switchyard and Magic City Books. Attendees were given a program and a laminate, with different levels of accessibility, allowing people into certain (or all) events. There was also food and/or refreshments provided there between some of the panels. Each night, there were also shows at the legendary Cain’s Ballroom – “The Home of Bob Wills” – with bus transportation provided to and from the venue. Night one was a great set by Rodney Crowell, with Bob Ickes and Trey Hensley; night two was John Fulbright, who covered “It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”; and the final night was a doubleheader, with former Dylan sideman Larry Campbell and his wife, Teresa Williams (they covered two Rev. Gary Davis songs, and Dylan’s “Wallflower”), and Robbie Fulks, whose recent “vanity project” is a double album reinterpretation of Dylan’s Street-Legal, titled 16, and he gave “Changing Of The Guard” a rare, and beautifully stripped down, outing.


For the symposium, participants were asked to submit proposals in advance, and if chosen, you’d be given a slot at the same time as two or three other panels. One did not have to be a scholar or have a PhD to participate. Some panels featured stray presenters grouped together by category, while others were already submitted as a fixed group with its panelists listed. These panels were sometimes designed as “roundtable” discussions, while the others usually had three or four people giving presentations of about twenty minutes each, with a question and answer section as time allowed.


The panels ranged from academic to historical, analytical to irreverent. There were also a few Keynote Speakers – noted authors, critics, and musicians, discussing the works of Bob Dylan. What follows are selected highlights of panels and events I observed, including three presentations I gave while I was there.


I participated in one of the first three Dylan panels, at 1pm on Thursday, June 1. I was asked to participate by Danny Fingeroth, author of a biography of Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame, and the soon to be published biography of Jack Ruby, the man who shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald. This most likely explains why Fingeroth chose as a panel session, Murder Most Foul: Bob Dylan and the JFK Assassination.


A couple of weeks before the symposium, the other panelists – Salvatore J. Fallica, Jeff Fallis, Fingeroth, and I – met via Zoom to discuss how we would handle our presentations. Originally planned as a roundtable discussion, it was decided that the most traditional panel of individual essays of about twenty minutes each, usually with visual, and sometimes audio, aids would work best. Mr. Fallis could not attend the early sessions due to a scheduling conflict, so he sent a video presentation instead.


To give some idea of what a presentation might be like to experience, here’s what I prepared. I decided to focus on Dylan’s connections to JFK, mostly through quotes, and tie them into a larger context by linking other artists, such as the Beatles, the Byrds, the Beach Boys, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Paul Simon, and how their lives, and art, were affected by the events of November 22, 1963.


A highlight of the second day was Rebecca Slaman, with her presentation, “Come Writers and Critics,” part of the Fame and Fandom panel. Slaman (a.k.a. @ithrewtheglass on Twitter) is one of the bright new stars of Dylanology, which is all the more impressive considering she really only got into Dylan during lockdown. Her presentation was a mix of sociological studies of fan behavior, the differences of gender fandom, and how Dylan was perceived critically, with a mixture of expertise, insight, and humor.


This was followed by a keynote speech by Cass Sunstein, titled Museums are Vulgar: Bob Dylan and Dishabituation, which was basically a study of busy being born instead of dying. It was about how Dylan regularly changing gears throughout his career led to an increase in his creative juices by exploring different artistic avenues.


The next panel I attended was The Philosophy of Modern Song and the Ambi-Modernist Impulse. It featured my future co-panelists Erin C. Callahan (“‘Lame as Hell and a Big Trick’: Dylan’s Comment on the Commodification of Art in The Philosophy of Modern Song”, and Court Carney (“‘The Laws of Time Didn’t Apply To You’: The Philosophy of Modern Song and the Zeitgeist of the Discontent”), as well as Jim Salvucci, host of the Dylantantes podcast. Callahan and Carney, both PhD professors from Houston, gave detailed explorations of the themes of Dylan’s most recent book, while Salvucci explored how Dylan is fascinated by a bygone world – not a perfect world, but one he appears to, if not miss, at least chronicle.


The third and final panel that day that I attended was Talking Dylan – The Bob Dylan Podcasters. It featured four Dylan-centric podcast hosts – Craig Danuloff (Dylan.FM a.k.a. “Freak Music Dylan”), Rob Kelly (PodDylan), Laura Tenschert (Definitely Dylan), and Daniel MacKay (Hard Rain and Slow Trains) – all of whom I was familiar with, and I have even appeared on Rob Kelly’s program. Each panelist discussed their own unique format, and Danuloff explained how they were pooling their resources to create their own network.


Certainly a highlight was “An Evening with Margo Price – In Conversation with Jeff Slate,” a keynote address. Reminiscent of his 2019 interview with Roger McGuinn, Slate interviewed Price for about fifty minutes before he accompanied her on three songs – her own “Lydia,” then two-and-a-half Dylan covers, “Oh Sister” and “Meet Me in the Morning/Call Letter Blues.” The questions alternated between her love of Dylan’s music, and her own career. When Margo said she was influenced by Dylan, she wasn’t kidding – she even named her daughter Ramona.


On Saturday, I was once again part of the day’s first panel. Titled Collaborations, I shared the panel with Scott Bunn of Recliner Notes fame (“Recitations on Waitresses & Art Within Terry Allen’s ‘The Beautiful Waitress’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Highlands’”); Ray Padgett, with a preview his new book of interviews, – Pledging My Time: Conversations with Bob Dylan Band Members; and my presentation, “Dylan & The Dead Reconsidered: Goin’ Down The Road, Feelin’ Rad.”


Padgett expertly used audio clips of varying quality to illustrate the contents of the book. While some of these interviews have appeared in his Flagging Down the Double E newsletter, including the hilarious and touching story of drummer Winston Watson, his daughter, and her “Uncle Bob,” many others have not. Having these stories by people ranging from Martin Carthy and Happy Traum (more on him later), to Scarlet Rivera and Regina McCrary, to Jeff Bridges and Larry Campbell, make this a fascinating and illuminating read, and dispels a lot of rumors and assumptions about our Bob.


My talk centered around when I attended the first Dylan & the Dead show on July 4, 1987, at Sullivan Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, as a lead-in to discussing the unfairly dismissed 1989 live album of the tour. I gave my interpretation of why Dylan may have chosen the seven songs he did after the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia compiled a much more accessible version, which Dylan rejected.


After another coffee break, it was time for a Keynote Presentation by legendary music (and Dylan) critic and journalist, Greil Marcus. Bob Dylan is quoted as saying, “The purpose of art is to stop time,” and Mr. Marcus does this with his presentations. In this current era of the short attention span, he’s not afraid to slowly build his case, beginning without any direct connections to Dylan, giving it breadth and depth and context, and lead us into a world most of us never knew existed.


Marcus’ talk was called “The Only Thing Missing Was Gloria Grahame: Noir Tomes in 21st-Century Dylan.” As the title suggests, Marcus explored the connections between the old movies Dylan obviously admires and has always been a source of inspiration in his art, and its connection to Dylan’s most recent works, including not only his art and music, but his promotional videos.


The next panel was simply titled Humor. It featured The Daily Show’s Daniel Radosh (“It Takes A Lot To Laugh: Bob Dylan as Humorist”), Harrison Hewitt a.k.a. Harry Hew (“How Long Can We Falsify and Deny What Is Real: Bob Dylan is the Funniest Person Alive, and Why We Need To Talk About It”), and my “Murder Most Foul” co-panelist, Danny Fingeroth (“The Comic Book and Me: Bob Dylan and Comics.”)


Radosh focused on Dylan’s funny lyrical content. This left Harrison room to apparently semi-improvise his talk, focusing on other aspects of Dylan’s humor. The basis of Hewitt’s presentation was about how Bob’s sense of humor is completely misunderstood. At the risk of embarrassing him, Harrison’s passionate, insightful, bold, and, well, humorous interpretation of the misinterpretation of Dylan’s international humor (often described as unintentional), was a highlight of the symposium. Harry had everyone in the room in stitches, including Radosh and Greil Marcus.


Mr. Hewitt talked about how people used to laugh at the humorous lines in “Desolation Row” until Dylan had his motorcycle accident, and since then, everything was so reverential that the jokes were no longer considered funny. He defended the “sick joke” lines in “Lenny Bruce,” pointing out that of all the lyrics Dylan has changed over the years, those lines were never altered. As Hewitt argued, what could be more appropriate than some sick humor in a song about the “sick comic” Lenny Bruce? Complete with nods to Rodney Dangerfield and even bits of humor from an interview with Dylan’s parents, the whole talk was hilarious.


Danny Fingeroth was next, with an entertaining collection of cartoon comics and graphic novels throughout the decades, featuring either Dylan, a Dylanesque character, or a song lyric or title. He also observed something about the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s legendary appearance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. When they performed “Like A Rolling Stone,” Hendrix introduced it as a song by Bob Dylan, then followed it by saying, “That’s his grandma over there.” I always thought it was just some off-the-cuff remark, but Mr. Fingeroth observed that he was probably looking at bassist Noel Redding and his frizzy afro, and that’s to whom Jimi was referring!


During a lull in the Q&A after the presentations, Harrison Hewitt mentioned something about being amazed that someone like Greil Marcus, whose work he had devoured (with a special shout out to his review of Street-Legal), would be sitting there, listening to a “goofball” like him. Marcus was among the first to speak with, and congratulate, Harry after the panel had finished.


I caught part of a fascinating panel, Stevan Weine, Best Minds: How Allen Ginsberg Made Revolutionary Poetry From Madness – with Holly-George Warren. There was no direct connection to Dylan while I was there, other than the obvious (Dylan and Ginsberg were friends and collaborators), but the documentation about Ginsberg’s family history of mental illness, and the medieval practice of a lobotomy that was suggested for his mother, was as detailed as it was disturbing. Ginsberg was talked into approving it as a way to “cure” what his mother was going through, which had a lingering and damaging effect on his life.


The next keynote speaker, Greenwich Village folk legend Happy Traum, charmed the entire auditorium with his talk, “Coming Of Age in the Greenwich Village Folk Revival, 1954-1971.” He began with a mini-concert, playing “Careless Love,” Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home,” Dylan’s “Farewell,” and “He Was A Friend Of Mine” (all songs Dylan has played at some point), then mesmerized the assembled with tales of the early Greenwich Village folk scene, complete with photographic evidence of everything from old records (and record stores) to the arrests of folkies for the crime of gathering in the park. He talked about how Dylan had asked him to learn to play the bass, then invited him to the 1971 Greatest Hits Vol. 2 sessions. He felt he had disappointed Dylan with his accompaniment on the first song, “Only A Hobo,” since it was not included, although the three Basement Tapes remakes did make the cut. So he was pleasantly surprised to find out that ten years ago, “Only A Hobo” was to be included on The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969-1971). And to top it all off, he found a picture of himself with Larry Campbell from about forty years ago, which was not only touching, but appropriate, since we were about to head on over to Cain’s again, and Larry was one of the performers.


On Sunday morning, there were two sets of panels left to go. The first one I attended, Infinity On Trial, was chosen because I was particularly interested in hearing what Definitely Dylan’s Laura Tenschert had to say. Also on the panel were Susan Scarberry-Garcia, whose connection to Dylan goes way back, and her presentation, “A Vision of Wheels: Bob Dylan’s Rail Car and Leo Tolstoy’s Bicycle,” using Dylan’s iron sculptures as the point of comparison.


Raphael Falco was not able to make it to Tulsa to present his paper, “Unheard Melodies: Ekphrasis and the Possible Gaze in Dylan’s Lyrics,” so it was presented by Tom Palaima, exploring Dylan lyrics through warehouse eyes.


Tenschert’s talk explored the evolution of Dylan’s lyrics as updated in his Mondo Scripto (a nonsense term, she noted) series. Tenschert pointed out the irony of Dylan recently saying that the music is just as important as the words, yet here they are presented acapella, so to speak. At one point, she said she didn’t understand why Dylan had drawn a portrait of Barbra Streisand to illustrate the lyrics to his song, “Every Grain of Sand.” My interpretation was that it may have been a play on words – “Every. Grain. Of. Barbra. Strei. Sand.”


I participated in one of the final presentations, Roundtable: Where Beauty Goes Unrecognized: Reconsidering Bob Dylan in the 80s, along with Eric Callahan, Court Carney, and Jeff Fallis. During our pre-Tulsa Zoom meeting, it was decided that we would each give a short presentation, and then we’d open the floor for a Q&A period. I placed my essay in the context of the Bizarro World of how the rockers of the 60s and 70s fought to fit into the musical landscape of the 1980s. The decade began with a series of bummers, most significantly to many, the murder of John Lennon in December, 1980, which had a chilling effect on his peers, including Dylan, Neil Young, and the remaining Beatles.


There was a heated discussion, with much participation from those in attendance. One example: Laura Tenschert said that to her and her peers, the 80s began not in 1980, but in 1983, with the release of Dylan’s Infidels album. I can understand that, as one could say that in America, the 60s as we (think we) know it, began in February, 1964, when the Beatles landed at JFK.


And then it was all over. All in all, a worthwhile trip. It felt like Switchyard is going through some growing pains, trying things out, seeing what works and what doesn’t. From my limited viewpoint, it seemed like the socially conscious part, and the Dylan part, of Switchyard, did not mix particularly well, mostly due to the time allowed. I don’t know why the Dylan Center was not a major part of the festivities, but unveiling even more rarities in future years would certainly add value to the proceedings.


REVIEW OF Whole World in an Uproar

Aaron J. Leonard. Whole World in an Uproar: Music, Rebellion, and Repression 1955-1972. Repeater Books, 2023. 319 pp.

REVIEW BY Evan Sennett, Indiana University


A mesh of thumbprints and a gaggle of names: Nina Simone, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. They come together, on the cover of Aaron J. Leonard’s new book Whole World in an Uproar, to form the distinct outline of Bob Dylan, who, for some, is emblematic of the sixties. But he is not the only emblem of the era. The time period hosted an army of emblems who, in hindsight, each appeared either to stand for or against the status quo – a standard which shifted throughout the decade.

As someone who never experienced the sixties, I find it really difficult to imagine what it must have felt like to relate to those representatives in real-time. To read backwards into the mythology of the sixties is to be confronted with conflict. The decade presented a series of iconoclasts. These were activists and artists who gestured toward the general instability of the time, and were themselves figures of instability.

This is the paradox of the decade, a feeling of whiplash that can be felt by enthusiasts of sixties music, especially by those who were not there to experience it for themselves. Leonard’s new book serves as an apt reminder that these so-called icons released their music into a culture of hostility, and the United States government often surveyed, profiled, and even punished them in response to their radical creations.

In his previous book, Folk Singers and the Bureau (2020), Leonard covers the forties and fiftes, and frames the theme of hostility in much more tangible terms. The FBI considered the folk and blues artists from this period security threats, due to their association with the Communist Party of the United States (CPUS). In Leonard’s new release, a work he affectionately refers to as his “Sixties book,” the story of hostility becomes much more difficult to place (1). This is not to say that hostility wasn’t present at all – quite the contrary. Leonard makes a strong case that sixties music was built from, and often revolved around, a general culture of hostility. But as the music industry made its transition into the new decade, repression quickly became a difficult knot to untie:

Disentangling the impact of personal decisions, tragic events, and repressive initiatives in the decline of the first wave of rock ’n’ roll is near impossible. What is clear is that this musical movement was met with considerable hostility – tolerated only to the degree that it could reap enormous profits. This was a circumstance that would change little in the coming years. (23)

There is no doubt that hostility was a fundamental ingredient to the music of the decade. But putting a finger on where that hostility was at any given time becomes a less straight-forward task. Despite this complexity, Leonard manages to craft an entertaining read-through of the sixties music landscape. While this historical overview may feel a bit too familiar for some connoisseurs, it is still engaging to flip through the greatest hits of the decade – the arrival of the Beatles, the “summer of love,” Woodstock, and so on – played out in the context of “hostility” and repression, which unifies all of these well-known events.

Leonard’s primary method for locating this tension comes from his reading of special documents released by the National Archives and the FBI. These sixty-plus year old files prove that the US government had its eye on many of the sixties music icons previously mentioned.

Scans of these FBI profiles are scattered throughout the pages of the book. At times, I wondered if this could make for an interesting coffee table piece, something that a casual fan might peruse in no particular order: today I feel like skimming through Nat King Cole’s FBI file… But as Leonard admits in his “Appendix” section, the FBI files themselves were difficult to obtain. This is partially a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which slowed the process of acquiring enough tangible evidence which might have filled a picture book – not that the coffee table was ever Leonard’s intended destination. But this also means that Leonard’s catalog of FBI files only covers 33 different public figures, only some of whom were musical artists. And while the page-count of those files reaches nearly four thousand, some of these files were destroyed or still awaiting release by the time Leonard’s book came out earlier this year.

What we are left with is a relatively slim archive, with many gaps still left to be filled. Nonetheless, Leonard proves a general sense of hostility towards several musical artists from the sixties, and convincingly argues that there was a kind of dialectical bond between these artists and the powers which attempted to repress them. In Leonard’s history of the decade, there are always two “forces” at play: the “forces highly motivated to keep” musicians and activists “out of the public sphere,” and, ironically, “the forces it unintentionally set loose” (6, 7). Each time the FBI profiled an artist, it seemed to fuel the very transgressions the government sought to keep out of hearing distance. And while most of these musicians had no idea they were being tracked by the FBI at the time, the tremors of cultural tension could still be felt by listeners. Conflict became music. For Leonard, this strange dance between opposing forces resulted in “works of wonder” (7).

Leonard illustrates the sixties as a dense period, every moment containing tensions, bursting with hostility, and pregnant with creativity. Perhaps Leonard’s sketch of the decade is a bit too vague at times. His sense of “hostility” becomes a kind of catch-all term which links together disparate events. Leonard even points out that the opening years of the sixties, a time which is generally mythologized under the leadership of John F. Kennedy as “a period of great hope and boundless optimism,” also fits into his narrative of hostility (34). These early years proved to be especially dangerous ones for the nuclear era and ultimately “set the stage” for a complex and hostile decade to come (35).

The book moves chronologically, from a brief overview of the early Cold War, to an entire chapter for each year of the sixties, ultimately gesturing to the early seventies by the end. Along the way, we meet many musical acts who functioned as transgressive forces. Leonard breaks each chapter into manageable chunks, divided into sections typically focusing on only one musical act at a time. Yes, you could read through them all in order, as presented. But I could also see this book functioning quite well as a reference piece, a kind of encyclopedia of sixties music and repression. A reader might easily pick out only the passages that interest them, skimming through the others at will.

That being said, those who do choose to read Whole World in an Uproar cover-to-cover will find a coherent argument to chew on. The mission is to investigate how music managed to make its way “on the FBI’s radar” time and time again (10). This is a mission which is often convincing, but at times a little vague – what is the FBI’s “radar” exactly? Where is it? What counts as being on the “radar” and what does not?

These unanswered questions leave the book with a general vagueness, which has the effect of coming across as paranoid. The FBI is always looking, but we are not always sure where they are, or how closely they are looking at any given artist, at any given time. This is not a completely ungrounded paranoia, as many of Leonard’s extracted profiles prove the presence of the FBI’s surveillance of the music industry, at least for some specific artists. Nor is this to suggest any kind of “grand conspiracy” (229). As Leonard clarifies, this time period was one in which many complex mechanisms were at play:

all of which resulted in the music and the artists producing it contending with both conscious and reflexive reaction. Regardless of the specific tack, the effect was the same: a generalized brake – or worse – on artists trying to bring forward pathbreaking music. (229)

Still, I would have appreciated more specificity here and there. Leonard’s evidence is not always presented in a tangible form. Instead, we get a series of artist profiles that are at times convincing and at other times a bit too loose.

Leonard makes a concerted effort to touch on most of the notable names in the music industry at the time, especially the ones who are well-remembered and celebrated today. Even when artists were not working under direct surveillance, Leonard still attempts to show how they fit within his overarching narrative of hostility. Johnny Cash, for example, is presented to us without reference to any FBI profile. Regardless, he still falls victim to what Leonard calls “background suppression” (98). The idea here is that, even in less radical music acts, hostility was still present. As Leonard argues “there was a multitude of times when those targeted did not even know it was being done to them” (98).

Despite Cash’s public statements about the mistreatment of indigenous people, he does not appear to have experienced any direct forms of censorship as a result of this political stance. Still, Leonard points out that “the fact that he had to” make political statements at all “is revealing of the difficult terrain anyone making stinging socially conscious music would confront” (99, Leonard’s emphasis). Cash’s activism should be noted, but this particular example does not demonstrate “music and repression” because Cash’s message was never repressed. There are several moments like this in the book which come across as attempts to make some of the more recognizable names carry an argument beyond its limits.

Since Cash’s name is on the cover, one would have hoped that he would have played a larger part in describing this “world” of hostility, Leonard’s ultimate narrative goal. Cash’s inclusion here feels motivated by marketing purposes. His name will help sell the book, even if he doesn’t play a significant role in it.

Other names have more clearly earned their spot on the roster. In a section on Harry Belafonte, Leonard exposes a career-spanning relationship with repression. The notable civil rights activist who had ties to Martin Luther King Jr., anti-war protest, and communism confronted the baggage of hostility during the entire decade of the sixties. Even though Belafonte took measures to separate himself from any political party, as Leonard observes, he nevertheless remained a subject “of increased scrutiny by the considerable US intelligence apparatus” (145). In Belafonte’s case, a former financial manager of his had gone on to become a CIA informant, which makes his government profile especially “gossipy” (145). By the end of the decade, Belafonte attempted to continue his activism by airing one of his songs set against footage of police brutality from the Democratic National Convention. The protest film was to air on the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” only for the segment to be pulled by the network (171). Belafonte’s work is a prime example of music emerging from a hostile world, met with hostility.

When taken in parts, some of these sections don’t show very strong examples of repression. The picture Leonard attempts to paint ends up being more convincing as a whole. This becomes especially interesting with public figures who have a more ambiguous relationship with authority.

Take, for instance, Leonard’s handling of Bob Dylan. Dylan not only makes the cover of Whole World in an Uproar; he is referenced on more pages of the book than any other single entity, with the exception of the Federal Bureau of Investigation itself. Dylan stands out as a particularly difficult icon to place on a political matrix. This goes beyond Leonard’s “Sixties” project, but I am sure anyone who has spent any amount of time with Dylan’s work has experienced his mystifying qualities – his inability to give straight answers in his music, and certainly in his interviews.

Leonard’s book reveals that the FBI was just as mystified by Dylan as the rest of us. He argues that Dylan “was a subject of a more particular kind of FBI attention” (68). After receiving an award by the Emergency Civil Rights Committee, Dylan’s acceptance speech was met with a roar of boos from his leftist crowd when he made a sympathetic remark about Lee Harvey Oswald (this happened only a few weeks after the JFK assassination). Apparently this remark, along with his girlfriend Suze Rotolo’s association with communism, caught the FBI’s attention.

Dylan’s own FBI file is one of those documents that was not released in time for this book, which forces Leonard to speculate on its contents. All of the negative attention directed toward Dylan from the left and the right, is possibly the reason why he retreated from the public eye during the latter half of the sixties. It also informs much of his more mystifying material for the rest of his career – something Leonard does not focus on at length. But this would have been a worthwhile question: how does the hostility of the sixties continue to inform music now? It might just reveal ways in which we still live with the hostility of the past.

One needs only to look at a recent Dylan LP to see how the sixties still holds a ghostly influence over his music. On the back side of his Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020) is a giant portrait of Kennedy. The dead president carries an ambiguous glimmer in his eye – a complex expression coming from a symbol of authority, which we are invited to look back into. Should we trust him? Admire him? Fear him? If hostility rests behind those monochromatic eyes, Dylan is not paralyzed by it. In fact, hostility only appears to spark more from Dylan. By acknowledging the sixties in such a pronounced way, Dylan might be suggesting that we still live with the consequences of that time, its hostility lingering on. But how bad can hostility be if it generates art? Kennedy, Dylan, and his audience form a tense triad. Our mutual glances are like stakes in a circus tent: if you removed one of us, the whole tent would collapse. But by suspending this gaze with unresolved tension, the tent somehow remains standing and the circus can continue.

Leonard’s book promises a wide-reaching story of music and oppression during a concentrated time of hostility and conflict. This story is supposedly so far-reaching that it had the Whole World in an Uproar. To make good on his title, Leonard touches on many of the important foreign influences from the time: Cuba, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam to name a few. And, of course, the British Invasion marked a transatlantic phenomenon with, among others, the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Rolling Stones. You know the story. At the end of the day, however, Leonard filters all these world powers through the context of the music industry in the United States. And it is through the authority of the US government that this hostility emerges. A better title might have been, Whole Country in an Uproar.

The US was a contentious place for creative people, which ironically sparked further creativity throughout the 1960s. But we should be careful to label this phenomenon correctly. Otherwise, we mythologize the rest of the world as merely in the service of US culture. In that same light, we should be very careful about how we talk about the icons from the sixties. We often forget that those mythological figures who appear to us as icons today were iconoclasts, working against the hostility of the United States. On this point, Leonard manages to treat them like real people, working under real, strenuous conditions. Their stories are familiar in many places, and in others as complex and mystifying as the music that we love.


REVIEW OF Bob Dylan’s New York

Dick Weissman. Bob Dylan’s New York: A Historic Guide. New York: Excelsior Editions, 2022. 154pp.

K. G. Miles. Bob Dylan in the Big Apple: Troubadour Tales of New York. Carmarthen, Wales: McNidder & Grace, 2021.176pp.

REVIEW BY Matthew King


Before I can review the latest books in the growing canon of “Dylan in New York” literature, I have to travel directly to the source. To Greenwich Village, the bohemian enclave where a young Robert Zimmerman landed in January 1961, and introduced himself as “Bob Dylan” from “the West” at an open-mic hootenanny. Specifically, I need to visit the apartment- museum of historian Mitch Blank, who holds a copy of Bob Dylan’s New York: A Historic Guide, a new work by folk guitarist, composer, and author Dick Weissman, who was performing in the Village years before Dylan arrived.

“Collecting is a disease,” Blank jokes, shortly after I step into his place one afternoon, his tone infused with a mix of humor and confession. Hidden behind his scruffy mustache is a ready smile, a playful energy. He gestures for me to get comfortable on the living room couch, which wraps around a large coffee table that doubles as a work space.

“There’s been tons of books about Dylan and New York, Dylan and everything. They pop up every year,” he says, shuffling through stacks of boxes. Many of these, I’ll learn, are either on their way out – to the Dylan Center in Tulsa, where Blank is an associate archivist – or newly received and in need of cataloging. “I really wonder what Dick is up to.”

A Village traveler since the 1960s, Blank has amassed a trove of cultural items to rival any small museum. His one-bedroom apartment feels like an archival wonderland, jam-packed with material yet meticulously organized. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves contain labeled binders and folders. Hanging near the kitchen-turned-closet are custom, built-in sliding panels of cassette tape holders. The walls hold countless framed posters and programs and concert tickets, mini-collections of buttons, postage stamps, baseballs. Dylan is his central subject, but the collection’s breadth spans artists and genres, as well as other items that Blank calls “cultural detritus” – political buttons, 45 vinyl adapters, old packs of condoms.

“The neighborhood is always changing,” Blank says at one point. “Back in the 60s and 70s, just a few blocks from here is no place you’d want to go. You don’t want to know what went on there. Today I wake up and it’s the trendy Meatpacking District, with clubs and shops.”

Like many wayward teens, I was drawn to the Village myself over a decade ago. (Dylan hitchhiked from Minneapolis; fifty years later, I flew in from Chicago.) The neighborhood felt like a magical anomaly, a cluster of tree-lined streets within a sprawling metropolis, the ground floors of its prewar tenement buildings offering a kaleidoscopic mix of retail and entertainment to suit any taste. Live comedy, dance clubs, hookah lounges, jazz bars, board game cafes, black box theaters. A paradise of late-night munchies, from falafel and kati rolls to specialty pizzas by the slice and Belgian french fries with dozens of sauces. By now, over half these old haunts are gone or remade, which is a fraction of the change long-time residents like Blank have seen over the course of a half century. Once-iconic coffee houses have been replaced with fast food and pharmacy chains; artistic hideouts turned into sports bars.

Meeting me at the coffee table, Blank sets down the book as well as a couple vinyl records. “This is Dick,” he says, scanning the covers and liner notes, where sure enough Weissman’s name and artist photo are featured. He’s the counterpart to Pat Foster on Documentary Talking Blues (1957), an homage to the spoken verse style that Dylan later employs in Freewheelin’. He’s one of ten young musicians featured in 5-String Banjo Greats (1964), where he plays on “Old Joe Clark” and “Whistle While You Work.”

Years before Dylan arrived in New York, Weissman had established himself as a rising star in the Village folk scene. This connection is featured prominently in the flap copy of Bob Dylan’s New York, which notes that Weissman “walked the same streets, played music in the same venues, and witnessed the growth of the folk music revival from before Dylan became popular to after the height of his impact on the music scene.” Holding one of Weissman’s records brought this point home, but it’s a fact that wasn’t immediately present when reading the book.

Bob Dylan’s New York functions as a kind of annotated bibliography of the bard’s early years in the city. There’s no introduction or preface about Weissman’s backstory (perhaps assuming a certain familiarity on the reader’s part). He doesn’t ground the project in any personal narratives. Rather, his “I” pops up here and there to share an amusing detail or anecdote. The fairly succinct guide, at 156 pages, serves primarily to assemble an index of notable places, people, concerts, facts, albums, collisions, and cultural moments, including those that only an insider like himself might know, and pointing engaged readers towards areas of further exploration.

Altogether, the entries total nearly 100 different sites of interest, and range in length from several paragraphs to a single sentence. Of “The Bagel” at West Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue, he simply notes: “Suze Rotolo reports that she and Bob frequently snacked here.” In longer passages about more significant spots, Weissman does an admirable job marshaling various quotes, texts, and voices to convey the complex character of a space (and often its eccentric proprietor). One memorable passage incorporates stories from Jack Kerouac, Gore Vidal, and Michael Harrington – as well as an album cover by Fred Neil – to paint the scene of the San Remo Café, one of the few gay-friendly bars in the area after World War II.

While it’s illuminating to comb through this exhaustive list, throttling between subjects and characters so frequently, and hopping backwards and forwards in time, can undo forward momentum. But the book pulled me along nonetheless with its wealth of detail, including the several historical gems from Weissman’s own experience that he graciously preserves for us.

He recalls the hunt to find his first East Village apartment, navigating the patronage system of rent-controlled units that eventually earns him a spot at a mere $22 per month, but with a $1,000 payoff to the previous tenant. During visits to the Folklore Center, he remembers Izzy Young would leave the store for spells at a time, trusting his customers to look after the place. In one poignant scene, Weissman describes a late-night set at the Village Gate, where John Coltrane is playing for a handful of people, and the manager has begun flashing the lights, even as Trane keeps on blowing for another twenty minutes. “More commercial parts of town… would have shut down the show for obvious economic reasons,” Weissman writes. “In the Village there were still opportunities for an artist to be an artist. Even if it irritated the light man.”

Bob Dylan’s New York also makes clever use of multimedia formats. Each of the nine main chapters begins with a walking map of a specific block or corridor, dotted with a dozen or so key places. And the written entries are paired with nearly as many photographs, an inspired collection of candid portraits, warm glimpses of street life and backroom jam sessions, and exactly one picture of a young Dick Wesissman – circa 1959, in the front row of a house party where Reverend Gary Davis strums his guitar. This geo-visual tapestry provides a surprisingly rich and tangible sense of the Village, its cramped rooms and lively, zig-zagging streets, its subtly shifting centers of influence.

Weissman’s project looks uptown as well, to the Midtown Manhattan offices that form the commercial music apparatus, through which Dylan’s songwriting catapults him to mainstream artistic and financial success. The penultimate chapter briefly leaves the city to cover Dylan’s years in upstate New York, but not his move back to the city in the early 1970s.

If Bob Dylan’s New York feels more academic in its design and purpose, another new book on the same subject uses a more popular approach, arranging characters, drama, and narrative to draw the general music fan into the magic of a potentially arcane subject.

In his recent Troubadour Tales series, author and curator K. G. Miles has memorialized Dylan’s experiences growing up in Minnesota and navigating major performances across London. A third entry, Bob Dylan in the Big Apple, looks not only at the early Village years, but his relationship to New York throughout his career. Over several decades, even after moving his family to Malibu, Dylan has continued to return to the city, always bouncing back “like a proverbial rubber ball.” The book even brings us to the present day, shedding light on which dive bars fans frequent before and after Dylan’s regular sets at the Beacon Theater.

Big Apple anchors Dylan’s story in a more traditional (and saleable) arc, following him “from young Village troubadour to Broadway Bob.” Each chapter presents a new obstacle or detour along his journey to music-god status, from early gigs at Cafe Wha? and Gerde’s to his tussles with superfan A.J. Weberman, the 1970s casting of the Rolling Thunder Revue (from a booth at The Bitter End), and a mad-scramble TV performance live from Rockefeller Center. Miles foregrounds his memories as a Dylan fan to set the scene for many chapters. This persona story feels just as present, if not more so, to the book than Weissman’s to his guide, despite a much thinner connection to the subject. Big Apple also supplements Miles’ authorship with his own kind of revue, enlisting a variety of contributors who were there with Dylan over the years, and who provide their own oral histories alongside the general narrative.

There’s a conversation with Terri Thal, reflecting on Dylan’s early performances – endearingly clumsy and Chaplinesque – and how he “resisted all attempts by Dave [von Ronk] or me to become more political.” Bret Johnson pens a couple of present-day dispatches from the Washington Square Hotel and the Horse and Kettle, trying to unearth the “salvageable heart” of the old Village, while conceding that, “I can’t promise you’ll find Bob Dylan in a bar, any more than I can promise you will find him in the Grand Canyon at sundown.” In a short interview, violinist Scarlet Rivera recalls the awakening in her strict, Catholic high school, when she first heard “The Times They Are A-Changin’” on the radio like “drops of water to someone dying of thirst in the desert”; she also describes the legendary encounter with Dylan on the street – he in a limousine, her walking with her violin case – when he was casting Rolling Thunder, and she was just another dreamy midwestern transplant enamored by the Village, “a place of fellow adventurers, hippy clothes, head shops, people playing chess on the streets, musicians, artists, freethinking spirits.”

As a reader, I found it much more enjoyable to follow Dylan’s story in real time. We meet his contemporaries as fully developed characters, who enter and exit his life at different stages. The book can feel novelistic, and the sustained narratives allowed me to better synthesize all the key places and characters and events, and how they fit together. It helps that Miles is a stylish writer, with solid narrative pacing, who’s found a way to position this Dylan mythology as fresh and memorable, even if some of the contributions feel clipped. (His chapter with the much-hyped A.J. Weberman runs only a few paragraphs.)

If there’s a downside to Miles’ approach, perhaps it is that readers gain less of a sense for the physical setting of the Village. Big Apple includes a centerfold section with a small map and some photographs, but these are easy to overlook, and they’re not particularly interesting artifacts. The photos primarily show building facades, storefronts, street signs; no faces, no instruments, no performances. Because Miles has included somewhat self-interested contributors, there’s also a tendency for these guest voices to posture, stretching to stake their claim as an essential catalyst in shaping Dylan’s trajectory. That includes Terri Thal, Weberman (“I revived his fucking career!”), and even Peter McKenzie, whose parents hosted Dylan on their couch for a few months during his first summer in New York (“What occurred during that stay is the unknown missing piece… People have been trying to figure out for generations”).

Taken together, both books build a case that Dylan and New York are inseparable. Dinkytown may have inspired a young Bobby Zimmerman, who was no orphan from the west but the product of “a very ordinary, comfortable upbringing in a lovely Jewish family.” But New York possessed the mix of artistic apprenticeship and commercial opportunism that opened the doors – not only to blockbuster success, but something more intangible. “I don’t know how I got to write those songs,” Dylan later said about his nearly unmatched spree of hits in the 60s and 70s. “They were almost like magically written.” The bohemia of the Village provided a space for him to mirror the greats and find his voice, through unending nights of live performances. The ambitious eyes of lurking Midtown agents helped him gain recognition. And, the fact that he arrived just as a historic wave of national and social protest was rising, affording him a potent topical subject matter, was yet another fortunate coincidence.

Reflecting on the Village in the 1960s, Liam of the Clancy Brothers recalls:

It was a certain sort of spontaneous combustion. It’s a thing that happens around the world at different times. It happened in Paris in the Twenties when Hemingway was writing: a mini Renaissance. It moves from place to place, and there are people who try to find out where it’s going to happen next, to follow it. But you can’t control it, you can’t predict it. What was happening at the Village at that time – it was a surprise to find yourself in the middle of it.

The figures of this legendary era, and its scholars like Weissman and Miles, are all well-versed in the practiced folklore. The underground basket houses along MacDougal Street, where audiences began snapping their applause to placate the upstairs neighbors. The first lone guitar player in Washington Square Park, George Margolin, originator of the “Sidewalk Hootenanny,” who inspired Pete Seeger and an entire folk revival movement, then disappeared from history. But there are common elements left out that I was curious to know more about. Why is Dylan’s family almost entirely absent from these histories, and how do they feel about his journey, the way he’s mused that he “maybe [was] not born to the right parents”? Neither book perhaps reflects enough on the wake that Dylan leaves behind him, how while he forged a success story for the ages, so many in the Village folk scene were sliding to the bottom.

It’s nevertheless a beautiful thought that Clancy describes above, and that Weissman and Miles uphold in their respective projects. The seemingly timeless allure of the Village makes me reflect on this relationship between culture and place, especially in today’s hyper-digitized era. Does the next Dylan need to cross a continent to launch their career? What is the unique power of a Washington Square Park or MacDougal Street when everyone has access to the biggest public stage imaginable, right inside their pockets? Today’s aspiring artists across the heartland might not need to uproot their lives to be discovered; they’re doing it from their bedrooms, on YouTube and TikTok and whatever the next platform will be. And while it certainly might help to be in a crowded place, learning to copy the best and rub shoulders with the powerful, does it matter less than it once did?

If there’s any truth to this emerging placelessness of pop music culture, then rooted book-length studies like these become even more valuable, capturing something like an endangered anthropological phenomenon. But perhaps this speculation is premature. One of the most fascinating pages in Weissman’s book is the map that begins its final chapter, “Other Famous Village Inhabitants,” which reveals Dylan as one tiny star in a busy constellation of cultural giants who all lived within those few square miles, from Poe and Twain and Eleanor Roosevelt to Auden, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dos Passos, Lou Reed, and Henry Miller. If it was ever in doubt, Greenwich Village furnishes undeniable evidence of the enduring relationship between geography and culture.

Collecting may be a disease, as Mitch Blank likes to say, but it’s a rare condition that strengthens our social memory. Reading both books renewed in me a certain gratitude for the work of preservation, not just of physical items but of stories, moments, and cultural shifts that are hard to see when looking merely at dates and facts. Whether in nonfiction book form, or the archives of a jam-packed city apartment, these cultural treasures help us re-experience the past, understand the forces that mold a singular figure like Dylan, and observe, in the abundance of ephemera and anecdotes, all that was different, and how much never changes.



21st-Century Dylan: Late and Timely. Edited by Laurence Estanove, Adrian Grafe, Andrew McKeown, and Clare Hélie. New York: Bloomsbury, 2021. 232 pp.

REVIEW BY Nathan Schmidt, Indiana University


It is the twenty-first century. Is Bob Dylan still a musician? Or, more accurately, among the masks that Dylan has chosen to wear throughout his career, how relevant is the mask of the troubadour in relation to the others that he has put on over the last two decades? 21st-Century Dylan: Late and Timely raises this provocative question. The fourteen essays in this volume remind the reader just how many different media one can find Dylan in, from art exhibitions to underwear commercials. In this catalog of eclecticism, we encounter the Revisionist Art exhibition, the films No Direction Home and Masked and Anonymous, and, of course, the Nobel acceptance speech, which is placed in delightful juxtaposition with Dylan’s ads for PepsiCo and underpants. As a public figure, Bob Dylan has remained busy in the present century, but it is interesting to note that relatively few of the chapters in 21st-Century Dylan are directly about Dylan’s twenty-first century music, since as of the volume’s publication Dylan had released nine albums in this century, from “Love and Theft” in 2001 to Rough and Rowdy Ways in 2020. Whatever Dylan is saying to us now, he is saying it in many tongues, and the voice, accompanied by the guitar or the piano, is more and more clearly becoming just one among his many modes of expression.


The editors produced this volume following a series of papers given at a conference at the Université d’Artois in December of 2018, and it is clear that they designed this edited collection with cross-conversation among the essays in mind. There are a few cases in which the volume wears its adaptation from conference presentations a little too clearly on its sleeve – for all his remarkable contributions to the discipline of Dylan studies, the entry from Christopher Ricks in this particular book is only four pages long and references the conference directly, which comes across a little awkwardly in print – but, as a way of capturing the dynamic shifting of ideas through the space and time of the conference venue, this book provides a snapshot of what was doubtlessly a meaningful and intellectually rigorous series of conversations.


The first chapter of Edward Said’s On Late Style, which is also in many ways Said’s love letter to Theodor Adorno, provides the title for the volume, and the figures of Said, Adorno, and Roland Barthes figure prominently throughout the first part of the book. While portions like Nina Goss’s chapter on Revisionist Art offer a close Barthesian interpretation of Dylan’s visual artwork, the genres and disciplines covered in the book range from film criticism (Jim Salvucci’s “Masked, Anonymized, and Chronicled”), to cultural studies (Eric C. Callahan’s “Bringing the Margin to the Center”), and musicology (Julie Manson-Vacquié’s “‘Blowin’ in the Wind’: Creation and Re-Creation”). Those looking for perspectives on Dylan’s twenty-first century albums will for the most part need to look elsewhere; Jean Du Verger’s “‘A-Journeying Over the Shadows and the Rain’: Dylan’s Late Style(s)” is the only essay that thoroughly considers several of Dylan’s records from the 2000s and 2010s; the volume also closes with a coda reviewing Rough and Rowdy Ways. It is interesting to note that the most frequently cited of Dylan’s twenty-first century works in this volume is the 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One.


A brief introduction by Adrian Grafe outlines four different ways to consider Dylan’s more recent work: praise, predecession, profundity, and persona. Grafe notes that “persona” will be a particularly significant interpretive figure in much that follows. After this, the book is split into two parts: “Honest with Me: Late Dylan’s Performing Personae,” and “Roll on Bob: Late Dylan in Text and Tribute.” Nina Goss’s essay “‘I Make It So Easy for You to Follow Me: Making a Case for Dylan’s Revisionist Art” is a bold opening choice for the volume – even the most dedicated Dylan-watcher might admit that the case for Revisionist Art is not an easy one to make. Goss draws a bit from Said and rather a lot from Barthes to make the case that “phoniness is no obstacle to interpretation” (19); that Dylan’s employment of pop art vacuity in his unsubtly revised magazine covers is “bullshit” (Goss’s term, glossing Harry Frankfurt), but it is bullshit that can teach us a lot about the “violating and erasing principles of inscription and personae” (25).


Much of section one draws on Dylan’s film and TV appearances. In “Masked, Anonymized, and Chronicled: Dylan’s Fatal Auto-Mythos for the New Millenium,” Jim Salvucci argues that the 2003 film Masked and Anonymous and the 2004 book Chronicles: Volume One are both “liminal manifestations of the Dylan myth, wedged…between disclosure and deceit” (27). Salvucci argues that both the Jack Fate character in the movie and the narrator of Chronicles are part of Dylan’s “lifelong persona-building project” (27). It is worthwhile to read this account of these two Dylan projects side-by-side. Since critics generally praised Chronicles and panned Masked and Anonymous, Salvucci’s choice to subject both of these pieces to the same level of critique may inspire some readers to adjust their evaluations of these texts. Sara Martínez continues to analyze Dylan’s films, in this case reading both Masked and Anonymous and I’m Not There (2007) as ways to understand Dylan’s performances of masculinity (“Performativity, Subversion, and Mask-ulinity: Dylan on Screen, Dylan as Screen”). In this chapter, Martínez also argues for the ways in which “Dylan’s emergence as a pop music icon coincides with the rise of new kinds of screen subjectivity” (43), drawing from the work of Laura Mulvey, Theodor Adorno, and Steven Cohan. Martínez finds subversions of American masculinities in Dylan’s refusal to be truly present in either film. Charles Bonnot continues to explore Dylan’s filmography in “No Direction Home: When Dylan Does Look Back,” which articulates the relationship between Martin Scorsese’s 2004 documentary No Direction Home and D. A. Pennebaker’s 1967 Dylan film Dont Look Back, focusing mostly on the implicit critiques of media and authenticity expressed in different ways throughout both films.


Two of the volume’s strongest essays follow this trilogy of film analysis, and they both take on one of the more perplexing aspects of Dylan’s twenty-first century presence: namely, his willingness to appear in advertisements. Andrew McKeown handles the subject with quizzical good humor in “Dylan Does Adverts. Surely Not? Surely?,” while Erin C. Callahan’s “Bringing the Margin to the Centre: Dylan’s Visible Republic” boldly integrates Dylan’s ad appearances within the rest of his artistic mythos. McKeown uses Dylan’s presence in Super Bowl commercials as an opportunity to discuss the relationship between authenticity and iconicity. Dylan once asked a reporter at Newport in 1965, “Why did you go electric?,” and McKeown artfully suggests that, if we were to ask Dylan why he went commercial, he would turn the question back at us in a similar manner (79). Callahan also compares complaints about Dylan “selling out” to complaints about him going electric decades earlier, but goes a step farther by explicating the ways in which “Dylan’s appearance in commercials is an extended performance providing new avenues of interpretation, thus keeping him relevant in the sixth decade of his career” (94). Readers who may feel perplexed by Dylan’s choices in the realm of advertising will find new and original ways to approach the issue in these essays.


The final two essays in the first section are the first to make Dylan’s music a central focus. Julie Mansion-Vaquié’s “Creation and Re-Creation in Dylan’s Performances of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ (1963-2016)” offers a musicological account of Dylan’s performances of his sixties-era hit, replete with charts of stage settings, tempos, instrumental arrangements, and song structures. While this data is usefully comprehensive, this chapter leaves room for further explication; the conclusion that “Dylan’s accomplishment thus brings him to surpass his own creation” (118) is rather adulatory, especially regarding a song that is already held in near-universal critical acclaim. Anne-Marie Mai investigates the presence of melancholia in songs like “Not Dark Yet” and “Red River Shore,” comparing them with his 2010 Brazil Series of paintings and interpolating the work of other famous melancholics like Kierkegaard, Keats, and Lars von Trier. All of the songs in this chapter are from the twentieth century; when twenty-first century Dylan appears, the reader meets him as a painter, not a singer or a musician.


Still, whether painter, documentary subject, or artistic prankster, Dylan’s various personae tie the first half of the volume together. The same cannot quite be said for the second half: “Roll on Bob: Late Dylan in Text and Tribute” is more of a catchall description of a smaller selection of essays about Dylan’s albums and lyrics and his Nobel Prize. Jean Du Verger’s “‘A Journeying over the Shadows and the Rain’: Dylan’s Late Style(s)” is, as the title suggests, the volume’s one essay that looks closely at Dylan’s twenty-first century albums in relation to the concept of “late style” that Said and Adorno elucidate. Du Verger actually identifies Time Out of Mind as “the dawn of Dylan’s late style” (145), but leaves no stone unturned—even incorporating Christmas in the Heart—on the journey to show how Dylan’s late work “address[es] lateness,” both in the sunset of a lifelong career and of life itself (146). In “‘The Last Outback at the World’s End’: Dylan’s Sense of an Album’s Ending,” M. Cooper Harriss describes Dylan’s enduring fascination with the album as a format for composing and distributing music, applying Frank Kermode’s theory of the relationship between the end of a story and the end of the world to a handful of Dylan albums, roughly half of which are from the twenty-first century. Readers may finish this chapter with some lingering questions about how the author justifies referring to the album “as, like fiction, a narrative genre” (10); Harriss states that the listener should think of the album as “a narrative genre fed by the significant interplay of words and music within a sequence of songs” (152), but it is not immediately apparent how this definition compares with a definition of narrative fiction.


Denis Feignier analyzes Dylan’s reception of various awards in “‘No Success Like Failure’? Dylan’s Awards, from Princeton to the Nobel.” This essay stands out in that it does not focus only on the infamous (and fairly talked-out) Nobel, and that it is also based on the author’s personal experience working with the French Minister of Culture who awarded Dylan a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres. (Bob responded to the award in the most Dylanesque manner possible, which is too good of a story to spoil here.) Feignier makes the case that, even though Dylan may come off as dismissive of honors and awards, it often happens that a Bob Dylan-style expression of humility is taken as aloofness. Simon McAslan’s “‘How Could It Be Any Other Way?’ Dylan’s Editorial Decisions in The Lyrics: 1961-2012” is a delightful investigation of Dylan’s refusal to be nailed down to one lyrical interpretation or another even in an official published edition of the words for his songs. McAslan also offers a very helpful genealogy of official and unofficial published versions of Dylan’s lyrics.


Christopher Ricks’s contribution to this volume is a brief evocation of Dylan’s and T.S. Eliot’s Nobel acceptance speeches, and it is followed by Adrian Grafe’s “Dylan Nobelized? Dylan Ricksified?,” which discusses Ricks’s Dylan studies legacy in relation to Dylan’s Nobel prize. The volume ends with a review of Rough and Rowdy Ways – which was released after the conference but before the publication of the book – by Grafe and McKeown. “The more Dylan extends the boundaries of his musical expression,” they say, “the more he wants to be different to his previous avatars and to experiment, as he clearly does here, and the more all the different components of the canvas that he has been painting for over sixty years fall into place” (217). From documentary subject to pop art provocateur to branding experiment for PepsiCo, 21st-Century Dylan showcases that canvas’s eclecticism.


Readers who go looking in this volume for versions of Bob Dylan in the twenty-first century will therefore find a dizzying array of avenues to traverse, from filmography to acceptance speeches and beyond. For Dylan scholars who may not have had the resources to travel to France and experience this particular conference, it will doubtlessly prove useful to have a published record of this fascinating series of conversations. It remains telling, however, that the twenty-first century Dylan represented here is not necessarily the Bob Dylan of his twenty-first century albums, but a more complicated and more expansive character. Maybe Bob Dylan still is a musician, but the lesson of the past two decades is that he was never “just” a musician in the first place. And isn’t the hallmark of a great “song and dance man” the ability to keep us guessing what the next step in the dance will be?


REVIEW OF The Bootleg Series Vol. 17 – Fragments: Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996 – 1997)

Bob Dylan. The Bootleg Series Vol. 17 – Fragments: Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996 – 1997.) Columbia, 2023.

REVIEW BY Court Carney, Stephen F. Austin State University


“It’s certainly not an album of felicity.”
– Bob Dylan[1]

Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan’s landmark 1997 album, begins in strangeness. Faint plucking, a tapping boot, the sound of thick air. Then, a staccato organ. These few seconds disorient. “I’m walking,” Bob Dylan intones, “through streets that are dead.” “I’m sick of love…I’m love sick.” An album of death, breakup, love lost, love betrayed – Time Out of Mind has elicited profound commentary on its meaning and significance since its release. The blues runs through this record in form and feeling, but the content betrays a more multifaceted approach. The record slyly resists any easy characterization. An album interested in the liminal spaces connecting, and dividing, characters caught in various narratives. Often called a “midnight album,” it also remains a sunset record – the golden hour rewritten as vicious noir. The production, spearheaded by Daniel Lanois, favors the amber dying light, all flickers and shadows. A formidable record of place and time, of mood and perspective, Time Out of Mind continues to stun a quarter-century after its release.

Hailed as a grand return to form upon its arrival in September 1997, Time Out of Mind endures as a towering collection of songs and serves as a dividing point between mid- and late- period Dylan; Before Time, After Time. Some songs became long-held standards in Dylan’s setlists, and others found a new audience as artists covered them. The record works as an introduction, a continuance, a divider, a collection, and an entity. It remains difficult to overstate the power this record has musically and emotionally, as well as its importance within Dylan’s extensive catalog.

Released as the seventeenth volume of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Fragments: Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996 – 1997) now expands the context of the 1997 record through a new mix, alternative takes, live cuts, and several outtakes. Contradictions define the original record, Dylan’s darkest, yet it contains some of his funniest lines. One of Dylan’s most cohesive records includes some of his most standalone songs. This new collection only reinforces the edgy magnetism of the album. Packaged as a five-CD set (as well as in two-disc, four-LP, and ten-LP configurations) complete with essays by Douglas Brinkley and Stephen Hyden, alternate takes, outtakes, and live cuts, the collection reveals much of how the record came together without completely demystifying the spectral web of songs at the center.

In 1985, Bob Dylan released Biograph, a career retrospective splayed across five LPs, which reoriented his life in music by juxtaposing hits, rarities, and outtakes into a collage free of traditional chronology. This boxset, which helped establish the prestige artist repackaging of the 1980s and 1990s, inaugurated a period of coming to terms with the larger question of his legacy. Six years later, in 1991, Dylan released the first (three) volumes of his ongoing Bootleg Series, of which Fragments is the seventeenth iteration. In conjunction with Biograph, this new boxset uncovered hidden narratives and drafted alternative histories of Dylan’s career. Even as he produced new music throughout the late 1980s, Dylan pushed forward a reconsideration of history and an emphasis on seeking order out of the chaotic past. Despite the critical evaluations of the records he produced during this period, the bridge between Biograph to the Bootleg Series (not to mention the origins of the Never Ending Tour, the Traveling Wilburys, and the two folk records) spans a rich period of revitalization. Dylan’s songs on Time Out of Mind came out of this context as much as any other. “But it is a harsh, honest portrait,” Martin Renzhofer wrote of Time Out of Mind in 1997, “of an artist and poet coming to grips with his past.”[2]

As Douglas Brinkley recounts in his liner notes, Lanois studied records by Charley Patton, Little Walter, Little Willie John, Arthur Alexander, Link Wray, and others “to get across the sound [Dylan] imagined.” Some of these singers, such as Patton, were primal influences on Dylan, predating even Woody Guthrie. These artists and their records became the soundtrack to the pre-recording sessions as Dylan began conceptualizing what the record would look like. During these early conversations, Dylan famously inquired about making a record like Beck, whose Odelay offered a compelling case for the musical bricolage that had defined Dylan’s creative and songwriting interests for decades.[3] Lanois took Dylan to mean that loops and beats should be the foundation of the recordings, which quickly began to grate on Dylan. The blues, in mood, content, vibe, and intent, served as the spiritual mood board for the songs as Dylan worked with Lanois to build the landscape that came to support Time Out of Mind.

An important thread to Time Out of Mind, perhaps less obvious than others, connects to Bob Dylan’s relationship with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. The story of Dylan and Garcia and their relationship goes a long way to explain and contextualize Dylan’s return to performing and songwriting. In Chronicles, Dylan wrote movingly, mystically, and even magically about Garcia’s remagnetizing of his performing compass. Garcia died of a heart attack in August 1995. “There are a lot of spaces and advances between the Carter family, Buddy Holly and, say, Ornette Coleman, a lot of universes,” Dylan said in his eulogy at Garcia’s funeral, “but he filled them all without being a member of any school.” Garcia’s death, as Brinkley notes, vibrated across the Time Out of Mind sessions. If we draw a circle around the period of 1985, say, and 1991 (roughly from Biograph to the origins of the Bootleg series), as a discrete moment in Dylan’s career where legacy building began to take center stage, then we might also draw a second ring around 1987, when Dylan first connected with the Grateful Dead on stage and 1995, with Garcia’s death. As Dylan began working on Time Out of Mind in 1996 and 1997, this friendship undoubtedly impacted these sessions. On a related note, in the wake of the release of Fragments, Dylan began pulling out an ever-lengthening list of Grateful Dead covers on his tour in Japan and Italy. Garcia’s presence continues to suffuse Dylan’s creative output.

After a preliminary planning meeting in New York, Dylan and Lanois decamped for Teatro, Daniel’s studio in a converted old Mexican movie theater in Oxnard, California. These sessions (from the early fall of 1996) excited Lanois, who perceived his production work as connecting with Dylan’s new songs. Dylan’s comment about Beck had inspired Lanois and his right-hand man, drummer Tony Mangurian, to layer multiple percussion tracks as a bed to the three blues-centered songs on the agenda. In his studio, with control over the emerging sonic landscape, Lanois hoped this record would be a landmark of lyrics and sound. Dylan, however, began to feel otherwise. The songwriter had long experienced unease in recording studios, where his interest in capturing the essence of a song trumped studio experimentation and development. At one point, Dylan just left. He told Lanois that Oxnard and Teatro, thirty miles up the coast from Dylan’s home in Malibu, proved too distracting. Later, he told David Fricke that he was frustrated with Lanois’s polyrhythmic obsessions, which to his mind, failed to “work for knifelike lyrics trying to convey majesty and heroism.”

Despite Dylan’s misgivings – and clearly, tensions existed between him and Lanois, however redefined they became in hindsight – the Teatro recordings included on Fragments are some of the most beautiful vocal performances of his career. The Scottish ballad, “The Water is Wide,” which he had performed back during the Rolling Thunder days, sounds both modern and ancient – bending the past to fit into the contemporary moment. Likewise, “Dreamin’ of You” (an alternative take that appeared on Tell Tale Signs in 2008) features such a beguiling loping beat you wonder who could ever consider this track a dead end; the song, however, would be later reconfigured into another, lyrically superior song, “Standing in the Doorway.” Finally, an entire book could be devoted to a third Teatro recording: “Red River Shore.” Unlike the other two songs, Dylan continued to work on “Red River Shore” after leaving Oxnard. All told, Fragments collects four versions of the song, two previously unreleased. Dylan undoubtedly connected to the music, which seemed as ancient and deep as “The Water is Wide,” “Lakes of Pontchartrain,” or any other ageless ballad. Dylan’s voice shines here as an instrument of potent emotional force. Still, this new collection underscores that these songs do not fit on Time Out of Mind. As gorgeous they are – and rejecting as they do the idea that Teatro was nothing but failed percussion experiments – they would distort the thematic and sonic coherence of the finished record.

After Oxnard, Dylan relocated to Miami, Florida, exchanging the idiosyncratic cool of Teatro with the well-trod history of Criteria Studios. Lanois disliked the move, and the 2,800-mile relocation reoriented the working relationship between producer and artist. Dylan brought in new musicians, including Jim Dickinson, who had a musical training much more in line with the southern take on the blues Dylan had been seeking out in his persistent return to those older records. The tensions between Dylan and Lanois remain as much a part of the Time Out of Mind story as the songwriting and music, and Dickinson’s presence (as seen in John Lewis’s fascinating account, Whirly Gig) only seemed to divide the two men further. These pressures and anxieties helped frame the metanarrative of the finished album, even if listeners would be hard-pressed to hear them in the (digital) grooves. The eleven songs assembled for Time Out of Mind feel like such a coherent piece of music (yes, even with “Make You Feel My Love”) that the backstory clashes seem impossibly distant. Still, as Fragments illustrates, Dylan and Lanois crashed through several (sometimes radically) different iterations of these songs. A song like “Not Dark Yet,” so elemental to the sound of the record, for example, appears in one version on Fragments as an animated swing. It works better than one might initially think, but it lacks the gravitational pull of the released version.

This set allows for a glimpse into the choices made in the studio and afterward as the record came together. Regarding lyrics, Dylan continued tweaking and editing verses between takes, with some versions featuring fundamental reworkings. In some instances, some early songs were jettisoned with lyrics used in different compositions. These outtakes and alternative arrangements, then, In “Dreamin’ of You,” for example, one verse (the “live my life on the square” section) gets reimagined as “Standing in the Doorway.” Regarding tonal and sonic selections, the box collects alternative versions that offer untaken paths. For instance, an early version of “Love Sick” has Dylan drawing out a later excised lyric: “and the air is haaaazzzzy.” An early version of “Not Dark Yet,” has an entirely different upbeat vibe, with a rhythm that unfairly connects the song to Sade. I realize how weird that looks in print, but it can be hard to shake once you get her “By Your Side” in your mind. Scholars will have a field day with these iterations as they trace the vapor trails of one version to the next. The key example is “Mississippi,” which appears in five different studio forms and a live performance from 2001. Dylan ultimately scrapped the song for Time Out of Mind, revisiting it for the follow-up: “Love and Theft.” Each version is distinct in mood and direction: some swing, some drive, some lope, some drift. What’s curious is that Dylan’s singing differs widely in each iteration, but each time he sells it – each vocal performance is present and engaged, even if they offer radically different interpretations. The song clearly had its teeth in him, even if Lanois, as Brinkley notes in his essay, “didn’t think its lyrics were all that special.” Dylan knew what he had. This set offers many such insights and surprises.

A quarter-century later, the high level of songcraft and production stuns. A noted return to form in 1997, the album surpasses even the more significant praise given at the time. The songs come together beautifully, connected in theme, production, and performance. The opener, “Love Sick,” still sounds unlike anything else Dylan has ever pursued. Fragments augments this cut with two alternate takes, which offer shifts in lyrics and instrumentation. The spectral nature of the song is maintained across every version, the combination of haunted pedal steel guitar and a staccato organ continuing to unsettle. 1997? Maybe. 1957? Maybe. Dylan and Lanois had detuned the radio just enough to blur time and space, and “Love Sick” offers a sonic mission statement. Together, the first three tracks (“Love Sick,” “Dirt Road Blues,” and “Standing in the Doorway”) sketch out the meaning and vibe of the record: a record of walking, waiting, shadows, and ghosts. If there is an underrated song on a record filled with minor and major masterpieces, it would be “Standing in the Doorway,” which has aged exceptionally well. The alternate takes included show the musicians driving the song at a bit more of a gallop, but the blues narcotic of the released version sinks into the 3 a.m. mood as the band nears the end of a long gig. There’s still some gas in the tank, but the rhythm section has relaxed into a mellow groove that the band and dancers alike can ride for the rest of the night. The lyrics (at once straightforward and intricately layered) give tips of the hat to Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Rogers, and Big Joe Turner by way of the Rolling Stones.

Two masterworks anchor the middle of the record: “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” and “Not Dark Yet,” as well as the live standard, “Cold Irons Bound.” This section of the album gives heft to the thematic core of the songs. Much of the gravitational pull of the record sinks in here, with the serious and reflective colliding with the existential and hilarious. The ease with which Dylan combines, juxtaposes, and blurs the dramatic with the comical gives the record its heft – the blues cut with jokes. Real jokes (you picked the wrong time to come) sometimes, glancing jokes elsewhere (I don’t know what “all right” even means), and often jokes that you know will turn sour in their retelling to the point that the storyteller begins to think, was this ever funny? But it was and is and will be again. In “Million Miles,” the narrator is always on the verge of telling a joke or a horror story. So much of Time Out of Mind rests on this enigmatic combination of heaviness and grace. The alternate takes on Fragments hint at the decision-making process (shifts in tones, tempos, and words) but also reinforce what makes the released versions work. The way Dylan draws out “gayyy Paree” in “Not Dark Yet,” for example, strikes such a beautiful balance of a light touch welded to the muted gloom of the rest of the song. These moments impel the listener to return to these songs as meanings shift, every relisten exposing some new truth.

And then there is “Make You Feel My Love.” Long a punching bag for critics, time has been kind to this ballad tucked into the back third of the album. Laura Tenschert has referred to the song “Dylan fans love to hate.”[4] The lyrics may not equal his most inspired work, but his voice is in fine form, and the melodies, particularly in the bridge, are solid. An argument could be made that criticism of this song (and to be fair, there seems to be a bit of growing revisionism here) stems mainly from the middle-of-the-road, lackluster cover versions that flourished in the decade or so since its release.[5] This final third of the record (“Make You Feel My Love,” “Can’t Wait,” and the incomparable “Highlands”) offers a conclusion, maybe, but at least a murmured recapitulation of everything that had come before. Of all the songs on the record, “Can’t Wait” has the most interesting shadow history, and Fragments presents wildly different takes on the song. Finally, as if that word could ever be used to describe this song, “Highlands” brings things to a climax and an ending. At 16 and a half minutes, “Highlands” wanders from stanza to stanza, scene to scene. One of his forever songs (see also: “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Desolation Row,” or “Tangled Up in Blue”), “Highlands” could seemingly continue ad infinitum. The narrator could add new tales or different takes on old tales continually without tiring. This performance also provides a summary statement of every aspect of the record: the Charley Patton appropriation in the riff, the Robert Burns pilfer in the lyrics, the modern references crashing into ancient allusions, the darkness and light. The Boston diner scene – some of Dylan’s most remarkable writing matched with some of his most extraordinary singing – is as long as the entirety of “Love Sick,” but it never wears out its welcome. These seven verses could be repeated and rewritten in countless places, yet they always land the same way. “Every day,” Dylan sings, “is the same thing out the door.”

Since the 1980s, touring has given life to the songs. Dylan has repeatedly argued that the songs find their life on the stage. New arrangements come and go, new keys, and sometimes even new lyrics keep the songs fluid and vital. Several of these songs on Time Out of Mind became standards – “Cold Iron Bounds,” certainly – lifting concerts years after other songs drifted away. The producers of Fragments have included a disc of live cuts of every song on the record save “Dirt Road Blues,” which was never played live, spanning 1998 through 2001. The versions offered feature fantastic performances and illustrate how strong Dylan’s band was during this period. At first listen, several live cuts seem like audience tapes or rough soundboard recordings – existing just under the threshold of what would be expected technically from a set like this one. Still, the sound tends to craft its own mood, which works with the material. Immediacy trumps aural perfection, and Dylan’s voice conveys the material’s infinite, ricocheting meanings night after night. Together, these performances (especially the fiery 1998 version of “‘Til I Fell in Love With You” from Buenos Aires) underscore the strength of the bones of these compositions as much as demonstrate Dylan’s argument that the stage remains the true test.

Mostly rave reviews met the release of Time Out of Mind in the early autumn of 1997. The record engendered lots of “Dylan’s best since Oh Mercy” (or Infidels, or Blood on the Tracks, or…). A look at the release schedule of 1997 is instructive. A year dominated by Radiohead’s OK Computer and the early apex of electronic(a) records (The Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, and Spiritualized each released significant records that year) also saw several high- profile legacy acts. Paul McCartney, on the heels of the Beatles Anthology project, released Flaming Pie, garnering his best reviews in fifteen years. In addition, the same week as Time Out of Mind, the Rolling Stones released Bridges to Babylon. This record featured an updated sound courtesy of the Dust Brothers, the production team fresh off Beck’s Odelay. Thus, as Dylan pushed Lanois to consider Beck’s method and ended up with something not Beck-like at all, the Stones grabbed the same production team and ended up with something different and also not like Beck. These three records, however, illustrated the hard road facing “aging” musicians attempting to remain vital 35-plus years into their careers. This consideration of age defined the reception to the Rolling Stones, who had long dealt with “comebacks” and the “too old” wisecracks of critics. McCartney experienced less of this discussion, though he weathered constant comparisons to work decades earlier. Dylan encountered a bit of both. His reviews routinely raised his age (he turned 56 a few months before the record release) and debated how this new collection fit into his oeuvre (with almost uniformly positive acclaim). Then news of his battle with histoplasmosis pericarditis, something he suffered through after the recording sessions ended, gave plenty of critics a new way to frame the record: Dylan had just written (untrue) a masterpiece about his mortality (possibly true, though unconnected).

The news of Dylan’s heart ailment, a much more headline-grabbing idea than the (still very serious) inflammation of the sac around the heart, gave critics the framing necessary to recontextualize the record as a record of impending death and doom. His Buddy Holly comment at the Grammys, then, had added significance. “I just want to say that when I was 16 or 17 years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him,” Dylan noted, “and he looked at me.” “And I just have some sort of feeling,” Dylan continued, “that he was – I don’t know how or why – but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.” Dylan clearly connected to Holly, who would have only been 61 at the time if he had lived. Still, instead of seeing that memory as a melancholic moment, it could very well serve as a memory of creative inspiration. Seeing Holly zapped Dylan back to the moment of becoming. Perhaps instead of a record of gloom, it was more a record of invention as he placed Holly front and center as a standard bearer of creativity rather than a hero gone too young. Still, death hung over the record in spirit and content, even if disconnected entirely from the specific moments conjured up by critics and reviewers. A key element of the conversation dealt obviously with the lyrics, but the production, too, gave heft to the claims of melancholy. Lanois’s shadowy production offered candlelight cast upon stone: no straight lines, each sound collapsing into the other. “It is a spooky record,” Dylan told David Gates in 1997, “because I feel spooky. I don’t feel in tune with anything.”[6]

The production is such an integral part of this record that it remains challenging to cleave the two apart: the songs from Lanois, Lanois from the songs. Dylan’s presence, of course, is central. If Lanois gets much of the credit (and maybe all of the discredit from those unhappy with the smudged fingerprint-laden tone), it bears repeating that Dylan established the impulse for the sonic continuity of the album. “But there is nothing contemporary about this record,” Dylan told Edna Gunderson. “We went back to the way a primitive record was made, before the advent of technology….And the whole record is live. That adds a certain ambience to everything.” One of the more provocative inclusions on Fragments is a remix of the entire record (without the original mix included). Remixed by Michael H. Brauer, who had worked on previous projects, including the fourth volume of the Bootleg Series (the 1966 Manchester Free Trade Hall performance), the new mix is both subtle and radical. Less a Giles Martin revisionism (a restructuring of the record that deepens the sound while uncovering various aural oddities), Brauer’s remix repositions the instrumental commotion so central to the original record. With multiple pedal steels, guitars, organs, and drums populating most tracks, with much of it bleeding over into the vocal mic, everything crashes into each other. One of the joys of the Lanois mix is this clatter where multiple pedal steel guitars, itself an audacious choice, blur with the other guitars and keyboards. Fretted notes, buzzy reverb, whispered slides: each sound bending into the other and becoming a sound larger than itself. Brauer gives more focus to this roar and allows new ways of listening to particular songs within this reinvention. The producer has alluded to a directive from Dylan’s team to “simplify” the sound (and the production team’s decision to incorporate this new mix shows their commitment to the results). In the remix, each song becomes a detective story: was that organ always in the mix in “Dirt Road Blues”? Listening can become a bit of a thrill. Still, to my ear, nothing surpasses or eclipses the original Lanois production. The new songs have their own shine, but the original murky mix retains its rightful place.

The legacy boxset, a mainstay of artists’ catalogs for at least four decades, is no longer a given. The last couple of years have seen an uptick in conversation about the meaning, sustainability, and need for such pricey retrospectives. Dylan spearheaded the entire concept of these collections back with Biograph in 1985 and the first Bootleg Series six years later. Since then, Dylan and his team have put out fourteen volumes of unreleased material. Ultimately this latest volume is one of the most consistently listenable volumes of the entire bootleg series, working both as a historical document and a coherent record. It combines the strengths of the best previous sets: the inclusion of different sessions that don’t alienate the more casual listener. Volumes such as 2015’s The Cutting Edge, which focused on 1965-1966 sessions, and 2018’s More Blood, More Tracks, focusing on Blood on the Tracks, filled significant historical holes, even if repeated listens often required breaking sessions down into more selective playlists. Fragments, on the other hand, is through and through a stunning achievement that helps explain the origins of the record and provides unique perspectives to understanding the context of the original album. Still the question remains: is there a future for these types of boxsets? Dylan’s career certainly provides ample content: a box on Street Legal, say, the Dylan and the Dead tour, or some new configuration that refracts other fascinating aspects of his past. But is there an audience?

In 2020 and 2021, during the Covid lockdown in the United States, I returned to Time Out of Mind as balm, as a distractor. It seemed to hold a particular resonance, much like, say, REM’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, another record of movement and stasis, sonic blasts and meditative spaces. For reasons known and unknown, I obsessed over “Highlands,” with its luxuriating pulse and seemingly endless verses. A grand finale of sorts, the song pushes against the dark mortality of the rest of the album. It’s funnier, for one thing, as it careens across the various set pieces. But it also offers the crack that diffuses the darkness. The final lines of “Highlands,” and thus of the entire record, end in sunlight. A different sun for the narrator than before, to be sure, but he also has “new eyes”: a reminder, perhaps, that no matter how much anguish envelops Time Out of Mind, the record would not work without the light. The final lines of the record offer the unclenching fist, And that’s good enough for now. To its credit, Fragments only heightens the contrasts that define the album. Hearing these different takes only complements what makes Time Out of Mind work. Even the remix serves the songs. Historical revisionism in the greatest of ways, Fragments allows a deep dive into what makes the original record work while maintaining the ghostly integrity of the music at the heart of the project. And that’s good enough for now.


[1] https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1997-dec-14-ca-63920-story.html

[2] Salt Lake Tribune, 10/19/1997.

[3] www.mojo4music.com/articles/stories/bob-dylan-what-do-you-think-of-this-kid-called-beck/

[4] “Initially dismissed by reviewers as a failure,” Tenschert writes, “it has since grown into a wildly successful pop hit. It’s the song that’s loved by the masses, but hated by Dylan purists.” https://www.definitelydylan.com/listen/2023/3/24/make-you-feel-my-love-the-marmite-of-bob-dylan-songs. See also: https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/dylans-to-make-you-feel-my love-why-so-much-dislike-for-it-on-the-forum.197992/page-3.

[5] Billy Joel’s version (on his third greatest hits compilation) predated Dylan’s release by one month. In his list of “Dylan’s Worst Songs,” critic Alfred Soto notes that “Garth Brooks, Billy Joel, Bryan Ferry are among the artists who have covered a plaint so generic that Garth Brooks, Billy Joel, and Bryan Ferry sing it exactly the same. https://humanizingthevacuum.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/can-you-understand-my-pain-dylans-worst-songs-2/.

[6] https://www.newsweek.com/dylan-revisited-174056.


Dylan Review Vol. 4.2, Fall/Winter 2022-2023 – BOB DYLAN LYRICS, COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

Blind Willie McTell. Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Crossing the Rubicon. Copyright © 2020 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Highlands. Copyright © 1997 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Isis. Copyright © 1975 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2003 by Ram’s Horn Music. All rights reserved.

Murder Most Foul. Copyright © 2020 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Red River Shore. Copyright © 1997 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved.

Sara. Copyright © 1975, 1976 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2003, 2004 by Ram’s Horn Music


All songs written by Bob Dylan except Isis, written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy.


Dylan Review Vol. 4.2, Fall/Winter 2022-2023 – BOOKS RECEIVED

François Guillez, Bob Dylan in the 2020s: Rough and Rowdy Ways, Shadow Kingdom, and All That Philosophy. Tangible Press, 2023.

Clinton Heylin, The Double Life of Bob Dylan Volume 2: 1966-201: ‘Far Away From Myself’. London: Bodley Head, 2023.

John Lewis, Whirly Gig: Inside Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind Sessions. Cambridge, Maryland: Dorchester Power and Light, 2022.


Dylan Review Vol. 4.2, Fall/Winter 2022-2023 – CONTRIBUTORS

Harriet Archer is a lecturer in early modern English literature at the University of St Andrews, where she teaches modules on the English Renaissance, Bob Dylan, and popular music, and is the author of Unperfect Histories: the Mirror for Magistrates, 1559-1610 (Oxford University Press, 2017).


David Bond graduated from Johnston College, the University of Redlands, in 1975, with a BA in Religion with a minor in Transpersonal Psychology. He attended Duke University Divinity School and graduated from West Virginia University with a Master of Social Work in 1979. He is a practicing psychotherapist and has been writing poetry for over forty years.


Nicholas Bornholt is a freelance writer, editor and a co-creator of gaslightrecords.com. He holds a BA and MRes in English from Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.


Jonathan Hodgers received his PhD in music from Trinity College Dublin, where he teaches in popular music. His core areas of interest are song lyrics, the music of the 50s and 60s, audiovisual aesthetics, and music in movies. Dylan and Cinema, his forthcoming monograph for Routledge, brings together these strands by examining Bob Dylan as a filmmaker.


James O’Brien is a writer and filmmaker. He holds a PhD in editorial studies and his dissertation focuses on Bob Dylan’s unpublished writings. Oxford University Press and others have issued his writings about Dylan’s work. OUP published his annotated bibliography of works about the director John Cassavetes.


Thomas Palaima is Robert M. Armstrong Professor of Classics at University of Texas, Austin and a MacArthur fellow. He has written over 500 commentaries, reviews, book chapters, features, and poems on what human beings do with their lives. These have appeared in the Times Higher Education, Michigan War Studies Review, Arion, Athenaeum Review, The Texas Observer, the Los Angeles Times, and commondreams.org.

Scott F. Parker is author of Being on the Oregon Coast: An Essay on Nature, Solitude, the Creation of Value, and the Art of Human Flourishing and A Way Home: Oregon Essays as well as editor of Conversations with Joan Didion and Conversations with Ken Kesey, both published by University Press of Mississippi. He teaches writing at Montana State University.


Robert Reginio teaches modern literature in the Division of English at Alfred University. He currently serves as the Hagar Professor of the Humanities at the University. This spring he will be working in the Bob Dylan Archive researching the composition of the songs that would make their way onto the album John Wesley Harding.


Christopher Rollason is author of numerous articles and papers on Bob Dylan, and of the book Read Books, Repeat Quotations: the Literary Bob Dylan (2021). He has presented papers at major Dylan conferences, including Caen, France (2005) and Tulsa (2019). Recently, he was plenary speaker at a conference on Dylan and popular culture, University of Jaén, Spain.


Richard F. Thomas is George Martin Lane Professor of Classics at Harvard University, where his teaching and research interests are focused on Hellenistic Greek and Roman literature, intertextuality, and the works of Bob Dylan. Books include Virgil and the Augustan Reception (Cambridge 2001), Bob Dylan’s Performance Artistry (Oral Tradition 22.1 (2007)), and Why Bob Dylan Matters (2017).



The Dylan Review spoke to producer and engineer Mark Howard about his book of photographs Recording Icons / Creative Spaces and his work with Dylan on Time Out of Mind and Oh Mercy. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Dylan Review: When did you start taking photos? And why did you start photographing recording studios?

Mark Howard: I started taking photos to document things in the studio, like what guitars people were playing, what instruments were used for other songs, and then it turned into a big file of all these amazing photos of the houses that I recorded in. I always take photos of the interiors of the houses as a kind of documenting. Over the years I had so much of it. I started filing through picking my favorite ones and it kind of turned into a playlist of photos on my computer to show people where I was working. And then I was working in New Orleans at a studio and the owner said “you’ve got to put a book out!” so I said “okay, I’ll start assembling,” and we put this book of photos out.

It’s taken with various cameras. It’s done with what’s called time lapse photography. I would put my camera on the console and it would take a photo every 30 seconds. So I would have hundreds of photos, still photos, and I would go through and pick the best one. I was capturing people in their natural habitat – It sounds like animals. If you hold a camera up to an artist in a studio they suddenly act differently. So I kind of caught them without them knowing.


DR: Is it like choosing from twenty takes of a song, when you’ve got to pick one photo from a hundred different shots?

MH: Exactly. Some of it was hard to edit because I loved so many of them. I captured so many great images. The photos of Neil Young are just fantastic. You would never be able to get that kind of shot with a photographer in a studio filming. So it was a cool way to document.


DR: Do you have a favorite photo?

MH: I would say it’s either one of Joni Mitchell sitting smoking cigarettes while I was recording her, or one of Robert Plant where he is working on lyrics.


DR: And what about Dylan? He certainly doesn’t like being photographed. It must be fascinating to get a candid take.

MH: On the Oh Mercy record, I had a Polaroid [camera] and Dylan said “don’t take any photos, taking photos is stopping time.” But I sneaked a couple out. I would have to take Polaroids of the console in those days to document where my settings were. So, I’d just do it on these Polaroids as it was an old desk with no recall in those days. So I was able to capture Dylan there with his hoodie on.


DR: Oh Mercy was recorded in New Orleans. How did you come to record in New Orleans?

MH: It happened because I was working on a record [in New Orleans] with the Neville Brothers who had recorded two of Bob Dylan’s songs, and Bono from U2 had been talking to Dylan and he said, “you should check out this guy Daniel Lanois, he might be good to make a record with.”

So while we were making the Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon record, Dylan was playing the Audubon Zoo here [in New Orleans] and we got an invitation to go. After the show, Dylan invited us onto his bus and he asked us, “what are you guys doing here in New Orleans?” We told him we were making a record with the Neville Brothers and they cut two of his songs. He said, “what’s that sound like?” So we said, “well why don’t you come to the studio tomorrow and have a listen?” He came into the studio and heard the version of Aaron Neville’s “With God On Our Side” and that sold him on it. It’s like it was the most beautiful version he’d ever heard, you know, Aaron singing. So that got us the invitation to make the record there.

We were planning on leaving New Orleans and I went to New Mexico to find a location to make his record. I found Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Santa Fe and it was beautiful; a big old adobe house. It was amazing. Great big rooms, high ceilings, it’s perfect for recording. And so I came back to New Orleans, and I told Daniel, “I’ve found the perfect location.” He hops on the phone with Dylan and tells him that we’ve got a killer location to record in – Santa Fe, it’s Georgia O’Keeffe’s house – and Bob says, “what Santa Fe? I can’t go to Santa Fe. The altitude’s too high. You can’t sing that high.” So Lanois said, “alright, we’ll make it here in New Orleans, below sea level, and it’ll be good for singing.” So we ended up staying.


DR: How did New Orleans influence the record? Would it have been different if you’d made it in some hi-fi studio in New York?

MH: Totally. And it had a lot to do with the players we had drop in. Rockin’ Doopsie, he came in and played on it, and we had Cyrille Neville playing Congas. Rhythmically it really was impacted by the New Orleans sound and rhythms. Definitely.


DR: How much does the room, studio, or a particular city, influence a recording session?

MH: As you see in my book, it’s interesting locations that inspire people. I think it’s got a lot to do with people being comfortable in their surroundings.


DR: Where did the sound of Oh Mercy come from? Did Dylan or Lanois have a specific idea in mind, or was it a natural mix of these New Orleans influences?

MH: Once we got into the studio, we started with some beautiful instruments that would influence how the record would sound. We didn’t even have a band in the beginning. It was just Dylan, a Roland 808 drum machine, and Dan. “Most of the Time” and a couple of other ones just came out of the box that way. They were really more up close and personal. I’ve always preferred the sound of Oh Mercy to Time Out of Mind. I think that they’re both cool records, but Oh Mercy is still in my heart the most.


DR: Dylan’s famously unconventional in the studio. Was he a challenge to record?

MH: In the beginning, on Oh Mercy, it was a difficult situation because we didn’t know Bob and Bob didn’t know us. He was just trying to figure out how it was going to work. We recorded in the dining room of this house, in which the kitchen and dining room were all open in one room. We had the dining room set up with the control room and we ended up making the whole record there. He wouldn’t wear headphones, so we had to set up like a live situation, where he had a floor monitor in front of him and his voice would come out of that, and I would go and set up a mic while he was sitting. I would put the microphone in front of Dylan and he would turn sideways, so I’d put it over there and he’d turn the other way. I would sit on the floor and just follow him around with the mic like a film guy would do.

So it was kind of strange. For the first two weeks, he wouldn’t even acknowledge that I was in the room or say my name. And then – I’m a motorcycle enthusiast so I had a couple of Harley-Davidsons in the courtyard – one day, he walks up to me and goes, “hey Mark, can you get me one of those bikes?” I said, “yeah, sure.” And so he says, “well, I’ll work out the money for you and you can find me a cool bike.” I had a friend in Florida who sold some beautiful vintage Harley-Davidsons. So I ended up getting him this really beautiful 1966 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. It showed up on Monday when we’re starting again, so he came in early to see the bike and I showed him how to start it and stuff like that. I took him for a ride around New Orleans, up along the levee and then down to the plantation homes. He was happy that I got him this bike and we just talked about motorcycles mostly. So it was kind of a cool situation between me and him in that world.


DR: How important do you think that is to record-making, not the technical aspects, but just making someone feel comfortable?

MH: Yeah, I think that and gaining somebody’s trust. If you don’t have their trust and they don’t trust you, it’s very difficult. But if you say “let’s try this” and it’s a winner and it works amazingly, they will say “well maybe these guys know something.” And so we kind of won his trust over in like the second week, I think it was. Before that, it’s not that he wasn’t liking it, but I think he didn’t really realize how it was going to work. He had written in his book [Chronicles], which I didn’t know about, that taking the motorcycle rides made him realize, “oh, I understand where these guys are going, it’s kind of cool.” I think that helps, you know, just having a motorcycle ride to clear your mind. When you’re stuck in the studio all day, sometimes it’s like having blinders on, you can’t see. So I think that opened up his thoughts on how it was being made.


DR: Is Dylan interested in the technical aspects of engineering? Does he care what microphone you’re using? Is he involved in the mix? Or does he just care about the feel?

MH: No… well, in a way.

When we started Time Out of Mind, I was mixing some live shows for him and one of the shows had him playing harmonica on it. He said, “can you make the harmonica sound electric?” I said “yeah” So, I took the harmonica and ran it through a distortion pedal into a little amp and re-miced it, so it had this grit on it. But right after the harmonica part finished his voice was coming out of there. He goes “wow, that’s amazing! It sounds great!” He loved these old blues records, like little Walter and all these amazing blues records that came out in the fifties and stuff, and he goes, “why can’t my records sound like that?” I said it can, we’ve just got to use old microphones and old techniques. I think that’s why Time Out of Mind has that kind of sound – a big open kind of concept – In a way.

So he loved this vocal amp and we used it all over Time Out of Mind. There would be two faders on the console. One would be this natural voice and the other one would be what I call the amp vocal. And he’d always sit beside me and say “where are we at with the ratio for the vocals?” and I’d say “we’re like sixty-forty; sixty clean and forty dirt.” He goes “make ‘em fifty-fifty!”, so I’d make it fifty-fifty. His voice had this special kind of sound on it, right? A you-don’t-get-this-every-day kind of thing. He loved it.


DR: The influences Dylan cites for Time Out of Mind are old blues records, but Daniel Lanois is, to me, a modern producer. Was it hard balancing those two things, making it sound like an old record but also making it sound like a modern rock album?

MH: I was just trying to make it sound as unique as possible. I wasn’t following any real forms other than using, like I said, older instruments and old mics and stuff like that. But I think it definitely did shape the sound of the records for sure, just having that in mind. But once you get in there certain tracks take over and become something else. Once you’re there with everybody in the room, it might take a left turn because it sounds completely different.

And with Dylan, we had like fourteen people in the room playing the same thing. And Dylan changes the key in every song just to see where his voice lands, if it just sounds better in a certain key. For a musician to change the key on the spur of the moment, it’s like learning a whole new song. So the band would come in to listen to the playback. People would be playing wrong notes and Dan just said “look, if you’re not gonna play the right note, don’t play at all.” He was very insistent with that! So it was kind of a difficult situation. It sounded pretty scary sometimes, but then other songs like “Love Sick”, this was in Miami, they were tracking and I put this cool little flange thing on his voice and a couple of other effects on guitars. So when the band came in I had this sound going on. So I printed that mix for “Love Sick” right out of Miami and I never bettered it, that’s the playback mix from that song. I got a certain sound that I tried to recreate and I couldn’t recreate it, so we ended up using that mix.


DR: When did you get the phone call to work on Time Out of Mind How did you end up recording in Miami?

MH: We got a call from his manager about mixing [a live recording from] this House of Blues place he played during the Olympics, I guess in ‘96 when the Olympics was in Atlanta. So we came out of mixing that into the making of Time Out of Mind at a studio called the Teatro, which was a studio of mine. I had taken a 1940s Mexican porno cinema and turned it into a studio. I had taken all the seats out and put a big deck in the middle and used the rest of the seats at the back for guitar stands. So we had quite a scene going in the Teatro and that’s where I mixed those shows from Atlanta.

When we started Time Out of Mind, Dylan was infatuated with this kid called Beck and he wanted the record to be like a Beck record. And so that’s where the loops and all that stuff started to come in. We started off just kind of like raw, with Dylan playing piano, and then we brought in this drummer from New York called Tony Mangurian, and he produced a lot of New York bands. One of them was this band called Luscious Jackson, they’re like this hip-hop girl group. So he’s a hip-hop drummer and was playing these hip-hop grooves against what Bob Dylan was playing on the piano. A more gospel thing. It was like the hair on my arms went up like, “wow this is special.” So it started that way and then Dylan says, “look I can’t work here, it’s just too close to home, let’s go to Miami to make a record there.” That’s how we ended up going to Miami.


DR: Do you think recording in Miami changed the way that record was made? Or how it sounded? I’ve heard it speculated that Dylan moved the session to Florida to take Daniel Lanois out of his comfort zone.

MH: Yeah, I really hated that studio. The room was really big and spitty and was like plaster. It was for making videos, really. It had a video wall in there. We had an awesome sound at the Teatro and I brought the same Neve consoles, the same microphones, all the same gear – and some motorcycles – and it just didn’t sound as good. I was embarrassed, really, about the sound of the record because of that. But after we left Miami, we ended up regrouping back at the Teatro and re-recording a bunch of stuff and so I think the Teatro may have helped it in the end, you know.


DR: There’s a lot of Nashville session musicians on that record – Jim Dickinson, Brian Blade, Bob Britt, Augie Meyers. Dylan isn’t a session guy. As you mentioned earlier, he often changes the key or the lyrics at will. Do you think that dynamic contributed to the record?

MH: Yes. The key changes are pretty vital, you know, especially if your voice sounds better in a certain key. But like I said earlier, with what we call the ‘Nashville people’, they weren’t used to that kind of thing. They were top session players. We had Brian Blade, who played on that record along with Jim Keltner, side by side, which was a cool sound. If you listen to it closely with headphones, one drum set is on one side and the other drum set is on the other side, which makes for a cool rhythmic quality.


DR: How much of Time Out of Mind was recorded live in the room Was there much overdubbing?

MH: Well, there wasn’t that much overdubbing, really. He changed a couple of lines here and there. But I think a lot of the sound of the room was going into the vocal mic, so that’s kind of why it sounds like that. You wouldn’t get that in the normal studio because you would have been in an isolation booth and dead, but playing with the band you perform better. I always base everything on performances. I’ll work the sound thing out later, but let’s get the performance down perfectly first. So always as you’re recording, you’re changing the arrangement and all at the same time. You’ll do a take then, in between verses, if there’s just too much filler we can cut that back. It’s always an ongoing kind of change.


DR: Did you know Time Out of Mind was going to be a classic when you were making it?

MH: Not at all. No, no. I don’t think that about any records. Because I’m the engineer but, you know, I’m also on the mixer too. So I’m always thinking about what I need in the mix or what we need here, a melody or something. So I never think about whether it’s gonna be hit or not. But a song like “Not Dark Yet,” just lyrically you listen to it. You think “wow, this is something special here.” When you have a song that’s lyrically amazing, you know you can do something.


DR: Do the lyrics affect the way you mix a song?

MH: Yeah. I always tried to mix vocals to be really present and then surround around them. So it’s more depth of field. I could reach into the mix and the hi-hat could be in the very back and some guitars would be very upfront and the voice is commanding, you know. These days I think everything is mixed, compressed, and pushed all in your face and it’s not very dynamic. So I try to keep it as a landscape, in a way.


DR: Dylan produced his own records after Time Out of Mind. Do you think you taught him anything?

MH: We just made it look so easy that he could do it! That’s what I figure.


Recording Icons / Creative Spaces: The Creative World of Mark Howard is published by ECW Press. It is available now.