This Is Not a Bob Dylan Movie

10 10 2007

Robert Sullivan in the New York Times Magazine

Because Todd Haynes’s Dylan film isn’t about Dylan. That’s what’s going to be so difficult for people to understand. That’s what’s going to make “I’m Not There” so trying for the really diehard Dylanists. That’s what might upset the non-Dylanists, who may find it hard to figure out why he bothered to make it at all. And that’s why it took Haynes so long to get it made. Haynes was trying to make a Dylan film that is, instead, what Dylan is all about, as he sees it, which is changing, transforming, killing off one Dylan and moving to the next, shedding his artistic skin to stay alive. The twist is that to not be about Dylan can also be said to be true to the subject Dylan. “These so-called connoisseurs of Bob Dylan music, I don’t feel they know a thing or have any inkling of who I am or what I’m about,” Dylan himself told an interviewer in 2001. “It’s ludicrous, humorous and sad that such people have spent so much of their time thinking about who? Me? Get a life please. . . . You’re wasting you own.” It might sound like a parlor game, or like cheating on Haynes’s part, but to make sense in a film about Dylan would make no sense. “If I told you what our music is really about, we’d probably all get arrested,” Dylan once said.

“I don’t know that it does make sense,” Cate Blanchett says of the film, “and I don’t know whether Dylan’s music makes sense. It hits you in kind of some other place. It might make sense when you’re half-awake, half-asleep, in the everyday lives in which we live. I don’t think the film even strives to make sense, in a way.”

More here.


Kill the Rock Star

8 10 2007

Chris Dahlen in Stylus Magazine

Last fall, the lads of Oasis said a funny thing about the music business. Noel Gallagher to the New Musical Express: “All the fantasy’s gone out of music, ‘cos everything is too fucking real. Every album comes with a DVD with some cunt going, ‘Yeah well, we tried the drums over there, but…’ Give a shit, man! It makes people seem too human, whereas I was brought up on Marc Bolan and David Bowie, and it was like, ‘Do they actually come from fucking Mars?'”

Gallagher has nailed the whole problem. In today’s tell-all, “behind the music” industry, he’d rather not know every thought that scraped its way through the drummer’s head, or hear every guitar solo they threw out, or listen to them talk for even a minute. He doesn’t want to think about the artists as people in any way. And this runs counter to everything the industry’s been trying, at both the major label level and the indies.

More here.

Top Ten Ways to Make Better Records

1 10 2007

Nick Southall in Stylus Magazine

Having spent years watching bands I love make seemingly insane decisions regarding what goes on an album and what gets left as b-sides, about what gets picked as a single, about sleeve design, production values, and a thousand and one other things integral to the process of making a record, I’ve come to the inevitable, ineffable conclusion that musicians are often fumbling in the dark during the recording and production process. It’s a well-worn cliché, but many musicians don’t know what their best material is, and even if they do, they don’t know how to make the most of it half the time anyway, and so the ostensibly simple process of making good records gets repeatedly cocked-up by people who ought to know better, if they could only remember the things they loved about records when they were just fans themselves.

I’m not an engineer or a musician, so you could easily dismiss my armchair punditry as uninformed bleatings, but as a music journalist, and more importantly as a music fan, I’ve spent a lot of time paying a lot of attention to a lot of records, researching how they’re made and talking to the people who make them, and the same things crop up time and time again as obvious mistakes and flaws in peoples approach to making records. So I’m going to offer some theoretical advice about how to make better records, from the point of view of someone who loves records, rather than someone who makes them.

List is here.

The Making of Blonde on Blonde in Nashville

28 09 2007
bob dylan blonde on blonde

Sean Wilentz in Oxford American

Blonde on Blonde borrows from several musical styles, including ’40s Memphis and Chicago blues, turn-of-the-century vintage New Orleans processionals, contemporary pop, and blast-furnace rock & roll. And with every appropriation, Dylan moved closer to a sound of his own. Years later, he famously commended some of the album’s tracks for “that thin, that wild mercury sound,” which he had begun to capture on his previous albums Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited—a sound achieved from whorls of harmonica, organ, and guitar. Dylan’s organist and musical go-between Al Kooper has said that “nobody has ever captured the sound of three a.m. better than that album. Nobody, even Sinatra, gets it as good.” These descriptions are accurate, but neither of them applies to all the songs, nor to all of the sounds in most of the songs. Nor do they offer clues about the album’s origins and evolution—including how its being recorded mostly in the wee, small hours may have contributed to its three A.M. aura.

Reminiscences and scraps of official information have added up to a general story line. During the autumn and winter of 1965–66, after his electric show at the Newport Folk Festival in July and amid a crowded concert schedule, Dylan tried to cut his third album inside of a year at Columbia Records’ Studio A in New York with his newly hired touring band, the Hawks. The results were unsatisfactory. Blonde on Blonde arose from Dylan’s decision to quit New York and record in Nashville with a collection of seasoned country-music session men joined by Al Kooper and the Hawks’ Robbie Robertson.

From the time he began recording regularly with electric instruments, Dylan, his palette enlarged, fixated on reproducing the sounds inside his mind with minimal editing artifice. The making of Blonde on Blonde combined perfectionism with spontaneous improvisation to capture what Dylan heard but could not completely articulate in words. It also involved happenstance, necessity, uncertainty, wrongheaded excess, virtuosity, and retrieval. One of the album’s finest musical performances, maybe its finest, unfolded in New York, not Nashville, perfected by a combo as yet not properly credited. Some of the other standout songs were compact compositions that took shape quickly during the final Nashville sessions. And what has come to be remembered as the musical big bang in Nashville actually grew out of a singular evolution that turned one grand Dylan experiment into something grander.

More here.

Cabury’s Gorilla and Music Criticism

25 09 2007

Tom Ewing in Pitchfork Media

Against a light purple backdrop, we see the face of a gorilla. He looks– as gorillas often look– a little sad. His eyes are lowered, nostrils slowly flaring. Familiar music plays. The gorilla raises and drops his head as the music builds: It’s as if he’s getting ready for something. The camera moves to show that our gorilla is in an unusual place– sat at a drumkit, sticks in hand, his long limber arms at his side. The music continues to build and he suddenly raises his sticks, crashing them down on the drums and flinging his vast ape frame about the kit as he blasts the song into life.

This is a new advert for Cadbury Dairy Milk, the UK’s biggest chocolate brand. The gorilla is a man in a suit. The music is “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. The ad is one of the most talked about in Britain, one of the most-watched on YouTube, and is also one of the year’s best pieces of music criticism.

Or at least, it does magnificently something music criticism finds desperately hard– isolating a moment in a track and communicating it effectively. “In the Air Tonight” has picked up digital sales and now sits happily back in the UK charts. This is because of the ad, but buyers aren’t getting a video download or a free gorilla mask or anything to link the music to the advert. They’re buying the song not to relive the ad but to relive the song the way the ad uses it, highlighting the entry of the drums so memorably.

More here.

Four Decades of Neil Young Covers

13 09 2007
image 234t4

Phil Dellio in Stylus Magazine

In the winter and spring of 1972, right around the time I commandeered a transistor radio lying around our house and began listening religiously to Toronto’s 1050-CHUM, there was a six-month window when Neil Young was something of a radio star. “Heart of Gold” made it to #1 in March, followed soon after by “Old Man,” a more modest hit. “The Needle and the Damage Done” also got some AM airplay (in Toronto, at least), and when “Heart of Gold” fell out of the #1 spot, it was supplanted by America’s “A Horse with No Name.” I have a very dim memory of America insisting at the time that “A Horse with No Name”’s similarity to Neil (ditto their “Sandman”) was purely accidental; just like the Osmonds and “Yo-Yo,” America’s sound was their very being, impervious to outside influences. Meanwhile, less covert cover versions of Neil had been on the radio within the past couple of years: Buddy Miles (1970) and Joey Gregorash (1971) both charted with “Down by the River,” Matthew’s Southern Comfort (1971) included “Tell Me Why” on the same album as “Woodstock,” and somebody named Tommy Graham (no recollection of him at all; he sounds like he should have been in Deep Purple ) made it onto CHUM’s Top 30 with “After the Gold Rush” in 1972. Neil’s liner note on Decade about not liking the middle of the road very much following the massive success of Harvest wasn’t altogether an exaggeration; if he wasn’t exactly Elton John, you didn’t have to search very far to hear him, someone who sounded like him, or someone singing one of his songs in 1972.

And that was pretty much it for Neil Young and AM radio. Neil himself had another half-dozen very minor hits over the next decade (none making it higher than #61), and two more cover versions charted: Linda Ronstadt’s “Love Is a Rose” (1975, a B-side) and Nicolette Larson’s “Lotta Love” (1979). No more Top 100 singles of any size for Neil after that, and no more hit cover versions. But cover versions did continue to appear—lots of them. Lots and lots and lots of them.


Possibly the finest reggae mix ever?

11 09 2007

From the Best Foot Forward music blog.

last january i bought a house and began renovating it. this old house was built in 1947, and had (apologies for the cliché) one lady owner, with no work having been done on the house for almost 60 years. it was a total wreck. at one point all that was left were four windowless walls – we ripped out the electric heaters, the floral wallpaper, the faulty wiring and the decrepit kitchen. what i was gifted with was a blank canvas, a carte blanche to do whatever the hell i wanted with what was to become my future home.

i think one of my finest moments (alongside putting dimmer switches in every room – can’t recommend that enough) was putting a speaker in the ceiling of the bathroom. i’ve always found the bathroom a sanctuary from the constant insatiable hubbub of the working day, and can often think of nothing better than running a bath and crashing out for an hour of lackadaisical bliss.

what i’ve found to be one of the greatest soundtracks for getting all wrinkled up to is this, ashley beedle’s 1998 essential mix. taking in all parts of the reggae spectrum, i can quite confidently say this is 2 hours of the most perfectly sequenced dub, roots, ska, calypso and rocksteady that you’re ever likely to come across. i’ve played this to immediate family, inseparable friends, and fucked-up all-back-to-mine randomers, and probably made about 20 copies for new devotees through the years. and i’ve now i’m sitting here, still wet from the bath with a towel around my waist, wondering why i haven’t let this secret out earlier than tonight.

Can be downloaded here.