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martes, 9 de junio de 2009

Bob Dylan in Facebok - First Debate

In Spanish

As many people who read this blog knows, our Bob Dylan Club Peru have already a space in Facebook; place where we can upload pictures, articles, links and comments about the life and work of Bob Dylan. The first topic in the section "Foro de debate" is about if Together Through Life deeserves, qualitativement, the applauses in EE.UU. like in the U.K., where it has reached the top´after almost 40 years. Now, I post a detailed analysis made by a friend and member of the club, Christopher Rollason:

BEYOND HERE LIES … NOTHING? - some impressions of Bob Dylan's album TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE (2009)

Christopher Rollason, Metz, France (

If nothing else, TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE has produced a new crop of firsts for Bob Dylan. It has become his first-ever album to reach number one in both the US and the UK, and has made him the oldest living artist ever to top the British album chart (a feat he had already achieved in the US with MODERN TIMES), and, again in Britain, the artist distinguished, if that is the word, by the longest time-gap between successive number one albums. Indeed, probably only fact-file obsessives will have known that prior to this album Dylan had had four number ones in his home country and/but six totally different chart-toppers across the Atlantic. The new album's success does, then, suggest there must be a consensus in the air about something.

However, in the British case further examination reveals that Dylan's three previous number ones were NASHVILLE SKYLINE in 1969 and SELF PORTRAIT and NEW MORNING in 1970 - all decidedly minor works. Before those three, he had spent 13 weeks atop the UK chart in 1968 with JOHN WESLEY HARDING, an album generally considered a major artistic achievement but whose commercial success had much to do with the groundswell of sympathy arising from Dylan's near-brush with death in his famous motorcycle accident. Is the commercial success of TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE, like that of MODERN TIMES before it, a reflection less of the album's quality than of a comparable sympathy vote, brought on by the artist's advancing years and the realisation that he won't be with us forever - that 'it's not dark yet, but it's getting there'?

My own feeling at this stage of the game is that we are dealing with a musically agreeable, cleanly produced and perfectly listenable Dylan album, but not one that is saying anything much of interest about anything in particular. Regarding Dylan's 21st-century output, I was and remain highly enthusiastic about 'LOVE AND THEFT' (and wrote at length about that album in THE BRIDGE, No 14), but have yet to be convinced by MODERN TIMES; and intuit that, for all the Latin warmth of David Hidalgo's accordion, lyrically this new offering will have a hard time winning me over. The fact that all but two of the songs are the product of collaboration with Robert Hunter doesn't help the evaluation of this as a Dylan album, but as with the earlier joint efforts with Jacques Levy and Sam Shepard, we may suppose the bulk of the writing process to have been Dylan's own (after all, it is, like 'Desire', billed as a Bob Dylan album) while not concluding therefrom that the resultant songs must be a priori brilliant.

Simplicity appears to be this album's hallmark, but, as with NASHVILLE SKYLINE and PLANET WAVES (the latter, incidentally, being another of Dylan's US number ones), a question mark hovers as to whether this is the simplicity of blissful enlightenment or the naïve simplicity of the banal. One of the questions I was expecting before the album came out, after all the well-known intertextual revelations surrounding its two predecessors (Junichi Saga for 'LOVE AND THEFT', Ovid and Henry Timrod for MODERN TIMES), was, 'Where are the quotations'? I may yet be proved wrong, but this time round, the answer seems to be, mostly 'nowhere' - neither literary nor musical. The one self-conscious literary-cum-musical line, 'I'm listening to Billy Joe Shaver / And I'm reading James Joyce', stands out like a sore thumb, as if put there to point to a general dearth of allusions.

Meanwhile though, what, if anything, do we get from Bob Dylan on this album? Technically, the songs are carefully constructed around clear rhyme-schemes (this may be Hunter's doing), and they are (mercifully) shorter and more economical than the diffuse, rambling MODERN TIMES songs. Nonetheless, on an actual majority of tracks the writing comes over as thin and gruel-like. 'Jolene' is a flat and featureless slice of country blues, and (sorry, Bob) far less memorable than the Dolly Parton song of the same name. 'Shake Shake Mama' is a clichéd blues number in the undistinguished mould of 'The Levee's Gonna Break': I fail to see the interest of lines like 'Shake shake mama like a ship going out to sea' (where is the resemblance?) or 'Down by the river Judge Simpson is walkin' around / Nothing shocks me more like that old clown' (whoever Judge Simpson may be, he's a pale shadow of Dylan's grudge-holding and stilt-walking or false-hearted and web-spinning magistrates from the past). The would-be social criticism on 'It's All Good' is simply anaemic by the side of, say, 'It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)' or even, God help us, 'Slow Train'. As to the most place-specific song, 'If You Ever Go To Houston' (the one Dylan chose to bring out first in live performance, in Dublin on 5 May 2009 - and which does look as if it might perhaps be about something), yes, it may be a critique of George Bush's Texas or the Second Amendment, and it does have a potentially interesting anachronism in the Mexican War reference - but any impact it might have is undermined by the sheer bleating pointlessness of a line like 'Mister policeman, can you help me find my gal?'.

All in all, after a few plays I began to wonder whether Dylan had positioned the album's opening track, 'Beyond Here Lies Nothin'', as a warning to the listener, to expect precisely … nothing. Should future listenings sooner or later honour any of the tracks as redeeming this album's lyrical blight, I might just about hand a nickel or a dime to 'Forgetful Heart' and, perhaps, 'This Dream of You'. In both, we find a sliver of intertextuality interacting with some just-about rescuable writing. In the first, the lines 'Forgetful heart / like a walking shadow in my brain / All night long / I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain' recall both Shakespeare's Macbeth ('Life's but a walking shadow') and the Edgar Allan Poe of 'The Raven', and the song also has a Kafkaesque door that may never have existed; the second offers, again, Poe-like imagery - 'shadows ... on the wall / Shadows that seem to know it all'. In these two tracks, there is, perhaps, a faint flickering of the old 'flames in the furnace of desire' - and yet, and yet, surely at this stage in Dylan's career, could we not have been given a bit more to reflect on than whether or not this album is up to the standard of ... well, of NASHVILLE SKYLINE?!! Bob, whatever colours you have in your mind, couldn't you have shown us one or two more of them on this record?

Related Links:

Bob Dylan en Peru - Facebook

lunes, 8 de junio de 2009

Bob Dylan in Huaraz - Video

This is an excerpt of the big Dylan party in the Café Andino in Huaraz, Perú the past may 24th . An unforgettable moment between friends and that points out not only to the warmness of the people from Huaraz but the great preference for the work of the master Dylan.

In this take, Adam Christopher Benway sings "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", with Richard Colonia in the keyboard and Sebastián Olaza with Connor Lamphier in the guitars.


Spanish Version

martes, 2 de junio de 2009

An Unforgettable Party

Spanish version

Querococha lake with the White Mountains in the backgrounds.

Writing, writing… I have to put in form of letters, words, what my travel to the north was, from the coast’s gray skies where the amount of cement just get lost, the thick and savage fog, the car’s horns, the hurry, the cold, the stress of the city, until the Andes’ mountains whose picks touch the blue skies, surrounded by flakes of cotton from time to time: clouds-flakes of unique whiteness and the shine sun, happy, shinning over the Santa river, to whose waters my grandparents, their parents, and their parent’s parents sang.

And the Huascaran Mountain, the most beautiful of all the mountains, vigilant and silent like a god watching us to come from the snake-road. The eight hours of travel finishes and Ysa receives me in the bus station with the warmness that only in Huaraz I will find and that I almost had forgotten.

Down, the bar side from the Café Andino.

Huaraz is a bustle, its people goes from one side to other but not like in the capital of Peru; their faces are happy, relaxed. They laugh, talk, doesn’t have any hurry. And Querococha, the Conchucos “alley” (long and narrow space between mountains) and the Chavín ruins, the rising road to Wilcahuain until the beautiful lodge of Wayne and Diana, the delicious “caldo de cabeza” (head’s soup) of the morning in the market of Huaraz, the visit to Anta, my lovely granny’s town, which I always wanted to know; they are some of the previous destinations to the big day, may 24th, in the Café Andino, ,where my host Ysa, her brother in law Julio, A.C., Chris,
Richard Colonia in a
musical ecstasy

Connor, Sebastián, Dylan and the inmense Richard Colonia… all the new friends that i’m meeting little by little, conspire to the great Bob Dylan hommage.

That special night, the coffee looks full, an unexpected fullness; people from everywhere are there expectant, "Beyond Here Lies Nothing" sounds in the speakers while the equipments upstairs, in the reserved space for the stage, wait the last tunings.
I ask for a beer.
Suddenly, the voice of Richard summon us he mades the presentation and then sings "Blowin In the Wind". There are a big silence, everyone is listening attentely… I am not the exception, there, lost in the bar side among the people who fill it. Jake DeBerry, volunteer of the Peace Corps, continues, singing a surrealistic version of de “Masters of War”.
Connor Lamphier
A soft voice, an angelic face sided by black curles and a thin body appears to take the next turn: is Connor Lamphier, and almost-encarnation of that shy Robert Zimmerman who went to the Greenwich Village to make his first steps in the 60’s. And "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" was what he sang.
In the next session, a kid came to the stage and took his violin, he was Adam Christopher Benway, A.C. to the friends, who made a spectacular performance, surrounded by his violin professor, Richard in the vocals, and Sebastián Olaza in the guitar, of the intense "One More Cup of Coffee". The people was amazed because of his professionalism and applauded hard for a while.

A.C. Benway singing "Knocking on Heaven's door".

But that was not all what A.C. had prepared for us, he took the micro and sang "Knockin' on Heaven's door" so tender and nicely at the same time that he had all of us in his hand. I could not believe and the ecstasy came when he asked us in his perfect English "sing with me"...... in other part of the song they sag the chorus that was the one of the whole night … ... "happy birthday uncle Bob", and everyone sang together.

Then was the turn of Wayne Lamphier from Lazy Dog Inn, who brought a very feeling version of "Girl of the North County" . Delicious. Sebastián played with him with a very lyric riffs , that turn into song time after, when this boy dedicated us "Just Like a Woman" with a stunning quality. Downstairs the people was already dancing, it was incredible… the party was in its top and, among them, a guy from Spain just danced like a restless snake...

Down, the Dylan party at the top time.

"Forever Young" came from Richard's hands and company and then, after all who sang with them, from the benches from the bar, the comfortable sofas next to the firing chemnee , the stairs until the crowded railing and the chairs and tables from upstairs who surrounded the stage, to whom everyone was looking like seeing a vision The harmonica touches of the ex Turmanyé were spectaculars and with the eyes closed and lot of passion, Richard took out the best notes. A real master.

And thanks to the public askings, the promoter of the show , to the stage, the second woman Dylan fan of Peru that I know and the best person , Ysabel Meza, went upstairs to take the micro and lead singing "My Back Pages"... the strophes fblew from voice to voice with all the participants in the stage remembering that magnific collective version sang in the 30° Anniversary Concert... precious hymn of that night and now ours...

Down the party continued, up, Richard sang us "Like a Rolling Stone", down the rolling stones enjoyed; in some place of the world, the tributed man was also singing ...

Ysabel and Dylan Mateo.

And then it was my turn. Yes, I was out of the schedule, i mean, I was only behind the curtains but, suddenly I was on the stage thanks to the Richard asking and sang that Hymn called "Forever Young", with everyone and surrounded by unexpected environment so compromised and total that I'd like to feel in Lima also; the nerves, the doubts, my past city-life of fog and behind a desk left behind ... the Dylan party in the mountains of Peru did'nt finish, was barely starting , and I sang with all my forces.

The souvenir of the Dylan Bash

I will never forget those four days in that I could breathe the most fresh air, in that i had the cjance of meeting a wonderful, warm people: starting with Ysabel, her husband and their bewautiful children: A.C. y Dylan Mateo; Richard Colonia, Julio Olaza and his wife, Sebastián, Felix the mountain guide and his girlfriend Jocelyn, the admirables Wayne y Diana, Connor, Sebastían, the China, the girl who attended us in the bar... now to write, to puta in this ecran of pixels is not so hard to me, now, even words are missing to continue and whis that this Dylan reunion in the mountains happens once more...