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It does seem unfair to start #BD969 with a bunch of songs (from the soundtrack of the Scorsese doc No Direction Home) that would be of no interest to anyone if the person recording them hadn't gone on to become Bob Dylan. But there is something cool going on here.
You can hear teen Dylan develop rapidly in 2 years, from the fumbling effort of When I Got Troubles, to the attempt at creating his signature vocal style in Rambler Gambler. The badly faked emotions of DInk's Song & the better faked ones of I Was Young When I Left Home #BD969
I Was Young has lovely finger picking too. #BD969 vimeo.com/216157949
I'm not including bootlegs in #BD969 (other than ones officially released as part of the Bootleg Series) but here are a couple of neat very early ones. Bob often talks about how he started out playing rock not folk and you can hear him trying on Buddy Holly & Elvis in these....
They're amateur to be sure but this style suits young Bob much better than the Woody Guthrie impersonations if you ask me. #BD969
I was never a big bootleg collector but in the early 90s before the Bootleg Series started I met one of the greatest. His library of DATs (he had sliding wall panels to hold them all) was the first time I realized how small a percentage of Bob’s work was actually on his albums
On to Bob's debut album which I haven't listened to in years. What strikes me now is how unnecessarily weighed down it is. I don't know what's worse, the forced gravitas of Fixin to Die & See That My Grave or the forced merriment of Pretty Peggy-O. #BD969
I'm not a folk authority but my father was deep in this scene (he met Dylan and possibly played with him, depending on how expansive he feels when he's telling the story) so I've heard quite a bit ambiently and there's little on this album that isn't done better elsewhere. #BD969
That said there are some gems, like the uncharacteristically light and lilting ode to consent, Baby Let Me Follow You Down. It's easy to imagine relaxing in the green pastures of Harvard University between classes listening to him play it. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/1EDjgsFp…
Yes! I just got to House Carpenter in my #BD969 playlist and my first thought was "Oh, that's what he was trying to do!"
The other songs from this batch aren't much, though if you've never heard No More Auction Block it's where Bob got the melody for Blowin in the Wind. Also: He Was a Friend of Mine and Man on the Street introduce a favorite Bob trope: the victim who "never did anything wrong" 🙄
Nerd alert: #BD969 is about to get slightly out of chronology as I listen to the Witmark Demos album (recorded from 1962-64) before jumping back to 1963. But if you really want to see where the demos fit into the precise timeline, check this playlist: open.spotify.com/playlist/4yakV…
40 songs in & I realize I may have never listened to the entire Witmark Demos before. It's def an album for people already deeply familiar with the finished songs and curious about where they came from. If that's not you, skip this section of #BD969. These songs get better soon.
One thing these tracks do accomplish in their rawness is to help me feel the shock of the new that must have come with them. That is, you can imagine living in a world in which Where Have All the Flowers Gone is high poetry and A Hard Rain's A-gonna Fall drops in your lap. #BD969
And I love Hard Rain but the fascination with Dylan's baroque poetry means some of his seemingly simpler lyrics, especially from this era, is overlooked. I'm racking my brains for the popular music context of 1962 that would prepare anyone for Tomorrow is a Long Time. #BD969
Come to think of it, I'm not sure the live version of Tomorrow is a Long Time that would eventually be released actually is better than this demo. It's coming up in a bit, but until then you could do a lot worse than to listen to this one.
I mean jesus christ. "But none of these and nothing else can touch the beauty"? That's astounding, right? #BD969
(It almost makes "silver singin' river" forgivable) #BD969
Good god, Bob was right to never record The Death of Emmett Till, a song that only proves he hadn't earned the right to attempt it. It's revealing that the only good line in the song is not about the crime itself, but about the white response (prefiguring Hattie Carrol?). #BD969
#BD969 housekeeping note: Halfway through Witmark I've decided to move the rest of the album to after Times A-Changin in the batting order. The point of this exercise was to listen to some of my favorite songs again after many years & it's frustrating me to hear the demos first.
The highlight for me of that first half of Witmark is a song I've actually never heard before! Long Time Gone is a lovely tune that, as others have noted, looks back to traditional folk songs and ahead to Shelter from the Storm. open.spotify.com/track/2sv21OR8…
Notable: Even this early Bob was already fighting the demands on him to be a prophet. But the tension--part of him does think he should be using his songs to help--makes me think much of that pressure was coming not from followers but his own conscience. #BD969
So the Bear Mountain Picnic was basically the Fyre Fest of 1961 right? #BD969
A little oddity before #BD969 gets to Freewheelin'. This not very good Johnny Cash-style country rocker was Bob's first single. Full electric band and not even remotely representative of the album it was promoting. 🤷‍♂️open.spotify.com/track/5tPcxgWQ…
If you must listen to Blowin' in the Wind in 2019, the Freewheelin' cut is probably the best. Neither prettified (like the one Peter Paul & Mary released before Bob) nor sing-songy nor roughed up (like Bob's later live versions) it's a soft-spoken, thoughtful non-anthem... #BD969
...but it's still Blowin in the Wind and there's not really any reason to listen to it in 2019. I mean, yes, it's Indisputably Great and all that, but this is one song I can't make myself hear fresh and honestly never need to hear again. #BD969
I don't much like Masters of War but I really admire it. Because it's not antiwar song which is easy. It's an anti-warmonger song which takes balls. Imagine this aimed at Rumsfeld during Iraq. The civility police at CNN (to say nothing of Fox) would be tsking their tongues out!
Among the first five tracks on Freewheelin' there's nothing that I'd ever seek out to listen to-- especially since there's a better version of Girl from the North Country coming down the pike-- but the album picks up soon! #BD969
Imagine being halfway through a 7 minute song and accidentally saying "what did you meet" instead of "who did you meet" I wouldn't want to do a second take either.

(This is the best analysis ever of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall) #BD969
OTOH Don't Think Twice, It's All Right is a song I'll never get tired of. There's something about the delicate, beautiful guitar in service of the cruel, self-centered lyrics that's like alchemy. It's mean and it's funny but it's also sad. Bob's lying: It's not all right. #BD969
Johnny Cash, who adapted the song, gets the balance wrong. His take is just shitty macho posturing. I think he recognized it, as later performances aimed for more subtlety, but it never really works. play.google.com/music/m/Tfjsgi…
We should talk about Bob’s attitude toward women though. He’s kind of a dick. I’m not gonna get much into his real life in #BD969 but the person in many of his songs-aggrieved, domineering, condescending-isn’t someone I’d want to know or be.
Some people have trouble seeing that because it is interwoven with charm and wit and dazzling brilliance, but I think it is important to see. #BD969
Let's finish off Freewheelin' with a lightning round #BD969
Bob Dylan's Dream: As @hodgman says, nostalgia is a toxic impulse. It's baked into Bob's DNA for sure, but usually it's just seasoning. This is a heaping serving of nothing else and it's pretty gross. #BD969
Oxford Town: Bob wrote a lot of anti-racist protest songs in the early 60s. This is neither the best nor worst but tucked away in it is a clever, succinct & I think intentional critique of white liberal privilege. I'm taking a stand for others! (but I can always go home) #BD969
Talkin' WWIII Blues: Early Bob's protest singer rep sometimes obscures how goofy and funny his stuff could be in this era. I love a good postapocalyptic yarn.
Corrina, Corrina: I don't understand how everyone around Bob didn't listen to this track and think, "Oh, he should have a band ALL the time." An all-time classic and a nice break from the acoustic guitar monotony. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/1L4RtuEi…
Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance: Another funny song. "I’ve been lookin’ all over for a gal like you / I can’t find nobody so you’ll have to do" is one of my favorite early Dylan punchlines.

BTW I just noticed the H. Thomas co-credit and found this:
I Shall Be Free: And finally another comedy number. This one doesn't age as well and even allowing for changing tastes it's a little too eager for laughs. #BD969
It's funny how Talkin John Birch Paranoid Blues was written as a satire of the far right's obsession with Russian spies and now it sounds like a transcript of a Rachel Maddow episode. #BD969
Just finished up a Dylan album I'd actually never listened to before, the 1963 Brandeis concert. It's not much, an artifact for completists. He's still performing songs more or less exactly as they sound on the albums. #BD969
Only slightly interesting thing about this concert is that Bob tries to tell the story of the Bear Mt. picnic before his song about it. I say tries bc considering how the folk scene prized storytelling almost as much as songs, he's really bad at it. #BD969
Even w exaggeration (the boat didn't actually sink) he can't make it compelling or funny (the way the song does) & instead rambles & repeats himself. W/in a decade Bob would famously stop talking in concert entirely. I've seen him a dozen times & he hasn't said 5 words. #BD969
Anyway since we've now listened to a few talking blues songs on #BD969 here's Loudon Wainwright's tribute to the man and the form: Talking New Bob Dylan from 1992.
And from the same era here's Todd Snider's Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues, just for fun. #BD969
Unlike the Brandeis album, Carnegie Hall is definitely worth a listen even for casual fans. Standout is the proto-trippy Lay Down Your Weary Tune. #BD969 play.google.com/music/m/Tret6m…
Bob's most direct lyrical inspiration for When the Ship Comes is the Bible but in fixing his Revelation to the arrival of a ship & giving his revenge an explicitly political context I can't help hearing a reference to Brecht & Weill's Pirate Jenny. #BD969
More precisely, it is this thumping piano demo that really makes the connection clear. The more chipper album guitar version, which we'll get to soon, sounds different enough that the allusion (if it's not just in my head) is hard to notice. #BD969 open.spotify.com/track/0LicmVGy…
The thing about Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie is it's successful enough I'm surprised Bob never recorded more spoken word. But it's also pretentious enough that I'm relieved (see also: Tarantula) Anyway, enjoy this cool dance interpretation I found #BD969 vimeo.com/248357928
#BD969 Anyone have thoughts about the Judas verse of With God on Our Side? I've always felt it's the key to the song, turning a clever but somewhat didactic antiwar protest into a global-mythological moral indictment and yet it doesn't quite fit. The surface meaning seems to be..
"Anyone can justify anything, even the betrayal of God, if they think God is on their side." But it's not just the betrayal Bob is thinking of, it's the kiss. What is the analog btw Judas's false love & modern military crusades? But good on Bob for "I can't think for you" #BD969
...because there's a theological argument that Judas did have God on his side. No betrayal, no crucifixion... no salvation. Judas is part of God's plan even if he doesn't know it, even if Satan is in him. However I don't think this is what Bob had in mind. #BD969
As #BD969 advances to 1964 I'll put forward a preliminary judgment that if Bob's first 3 albums constitute his Folk Period, this is the most overrated period of his career. Not the worst. There are some timeless classics here. But folk/protest singer is not his legacy.
I never read the Bible until college so that's when I discovered that Bob had been working Christian ideas into his songs long before his "Christian phase". The Times They Are A-Changin', one of the few protest songs I genuinely like, closely paraphrases the Book of Mark. #BD969
The funniest thing about Boots of Spanish Leather (a song I adore) is how she drops hint after hint-like she really wants him to figure it out himself-and then the second she's on the ship she's like, Oh fuck it, and writes the letter. She doesn't even wait to get there. #BD969
So after posting that When the Ship Comes in reminds me of Pirate Jenny I just read that Bob has said that both Hattie Carroll and Only a Pawn are patterned after Pirate Jenny and I don't see that at all. #BD969
I just read that Percy’s Song is not a true story and now I regret all the years I spent feeling guilty for not giving a shit about Bob’s murderer friend going to jail. #BD969
No I’m not watching the Oscars, why do you ask?
After being pretty hard on Dylan's Folk Period it's worth noting that we're talking about 3 albums in 2 years and if I were to create a 12-song playlist (using the outdated architecture of mix CD) of my favorite songs from them it would likely be a no-filler masterpiece. #BD969
Challenge accepted: 45 minutes of perfection, demonstrating that the 2-year period I called Dylan's most overrated is still better than any other folk singer's entire career. (Don't hold me to these choices. I could swap other songs in on a whim!) #BD969 play.google.com/music/playlist…
I'm not sure if people who don't have Google Play Music can see that, so here's what it looks like. #BD969
About to start Another Side but first a second song I've actually never heard before. It's sweet I guess. I'd like to hear a finished take but I can understand why he never recorded one considering everything else he was writing at that time. #BD969
I haven't listened to Another Side of Bob Dylan in ages and it's clear right away this is the first Real Dylan Album. Starting with All I Really Want to Do-the snotty mischievous boy with playing with words like they're toy weapons-you know something special is happening. #BD969
Black Crow Blues merits a note as Bob's first blues song but let's move quickly to Spanish Harlem Incident, with its lyrics following a dream logic, sentences never ending where they begin but still making sense as they dancing in that delightful melody. #BD969
And then we get to Chimes of Freedom and my god it's like a mystical manifesto. As Bob's ragged voice becomes the rain unraveling tails in the wild cathedral evening, the song's meaning seems both clear as a bell & yet constantly slipping just out of grasp. Fucking magic. #BD969
I enjoy a good joke song (I Shall Be Free) or even a mediocre one (Motorpsycho) but I wonder if the order of Another Side doesn't betray a lack of confidence. Imagine the impact of Sp.Harlem>Chimes>Ramona>Back Pages w no comic relief. Was Bob nervous abt pulling that off? #BD969
The bones of AS/BD are quintessential Angry Young Bob. This is the sensitive jerk I aspired to be as a callow teen, protecting my fragile heart behind a whirling attack of lacerating wit, too good for the girls who won't have me. I see through it now but it still gets me. #BD969
I don't include Ballad/Plain D among those vicious greats. This is just a shitty song that barely tries to transcend its function as a slander of Bob's ex & her family. Even the small attempt at self-reflection fails, as when he follows "I cannot be excused" with an excuse #BD969
God I hate Ballad in Plain D. It kills me that if he'd left it off the album he would have room for I'll Keep it With Mine AND Mama You Been On My Mind. #BD969
FWIW Bob soon realized what a shitty song it is and said publicly that he regretted it, although Suze forgave him because of course she did. #BD969
Moving on, the most interesting thing about I Shall Be Free No. 10 is that Bob chose to follow Chimes of Freedom, arguably his first truly great work of poetry, with a song explicitly mocking the idea that he's a poet. (I also like England joke at the end.) #BD969
I once knew a cat named Ramona Come Closer Shut Softly Your Watery Eyes. I love this song. Bob didn't for a second believe that one day he'd come and be crying to her, right? And I'm sure she knew it too. #BD969
Motorpsycho Nightmare: Anyone know a good essay about pop culture references in Dylan? A lot is said about his use of various poetic/literary styles and folk/blues traditions but he's obviously a fan of movies, tv, contemporary pop, etc. He's just like us! #BD969
My Back Pages: As I noted a few posts back, Dylan wasn't the best influence on me in my college days. But these lyrics served me well at Oberlin in the first generation PC era. #BD969
Listening to It Ain’t Me Babe reminded me how much I also love this take it inspired a couple years ago #BD969
Before #BD969 leaves Another Side I want to point out a couple of recurring Dylan tropes that appear: the rural South as representation of purity & innocence and, more problematically, the exoticization of dark skinned women as possessing mystical charms. We'll see more of both.
#BD969 moves on to the 1964 live bootleg, which I've only listened to casually once or twice. I think this is the first evidence of Bob as a great performer. He's playing with phrasing, slowing down new songs so you can follow, laughing when he gets the words wrong. It's good!
If You Gotta Go has always walked a razor's edge for me. Just funny & catchy enough to enjoy despite the juvenile misogyny. But the live version ruins it, even though it's a good performance. The Bob Bros in the audience laughing is just too gross. #BD969 play.google.com/music/m/Tqq5rc…
Oh hey, Joan Baez! I wasn't gonna talk about Bob's personal life on #BD969 but when she shows up for duets, well... Maybe I'm projecting but it sure sounds like he's doing that thing, right? That "hey look at me being playful" but also totally undermining her thing?
I mean, of all the songs for him to forget the lyrics to, it's one of the simplest in the set? And just happens to be the first one she joins him for? Come on. (In 2009 he publicly apologized for how he treated her in general) #BD969 play.google.com/music/m/Tomatm…
But while I want to side with her, he's not wrong. Her singing, her folk song solo, it seems so old-fashioned & fusty. Just 3 years after he needed her to give him credibility! There's a great book about their relationship if you want to know more. #BD969 amazon.com/Positively-4th…
And if you don't have time for a book, there's a song, of course. #BD969
"Speaking strictly for me, we both could have died then and there" is a great and very Dylanesque line. #BD969
With the calendar about to turn to 1965 #BD969 enters what is almost certainly the greatest sustained period of Dylan's career. So I'm archiving this thread and continuing the discussion here:
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